Jewish World Review August 8, 2000 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5760
Can't they spare eight
nights every four
THE EVENTS of the last week have made me
completely reverse an opinion I have had for years.
I now believe that the major television networks
should go back to the old way of covering political
conventions -- cameras focused on the podium
most of the time, long hours of nonstop broadcasts
from the convention halls, attention paid to what the
speakers are saying.
Boring? That's what I had thought -- I'd thought
that it made no sense for the networks to devote
gavel-to-gavel coverage to the conventions. What
goes on there? They're just commercials for the
political parties, right?
But what the networks -- and I'm referring to the
old, traditional networks, NBC, CBS and ABC --
did last week, as the Republicans met in
Philadelphia, was insulting to the American people.
Not only did they provide the very fewest hours
possible of convention coverage -- showing,
instead, reruns of situation comedies and new
episodes of those moronic "reality" shows about
islands and housemates -- but when they did go on
the air from Philadelphia, they did everything they
could to keep their cameras away from the people
who were actually speaking at the podium. Instead,
the broadcasters spoke to each other -- blathering
about the very things they refused to allow their
viewers to see.
You may be saying: But the nominations of George
W. Bush and Dick Cheney were already assured.
Where was the news?
The news was this: Every four years, the two major
political parties hold their conventions to show the
nation their own view of who they are. It may be
corny, it may be scripted, it may be whitewashed --
but it is how the parties want to be seen. It's their
And that is important -- that is news. This is a
democracy -- and the citizens of the United States
are asked to choose between parties. We have a
right to roll our eyes at what the parties are telling
us, or to get angry, or to dismiss what they are
saying as bland and timid -- but we can't make
those judgments unless we see how the parties
It would not seem to be too much to ask the major
networks to devote a total of eight nights every four
years to allowing the American people to see the
conventions. To put sitcom reruns and
feature-oriented "newsmagazines" on the air instead
of the conventions is, to use an archaic term, bad
Oh, but some network executives will argue, the
political coverage has been turned over to cable
stations. It's a new television world.
Nonsense. Did you watch the cable news channels'
coverage of the Republican convention? It was, if
anything, more insulting than the over-the-air
networks' refusal to carry the convention. The
cable news channels used the convention hall as a
teeming, colorful backdrop for their own stables of
chatterers to stage mini-talk shows. Off on the
distant podium, you had convention speakers trying
to make points they believed to be of import. You
couldn't see them; you couldn't hear them.
And if you are saying that political speakers are
shallow, cynical and devoid of real substance, then
you're indulging in lazy stereotyping. Whatever the
faults of the men and women who spoke at the
Republican convention, they came to the hall
because they believed in something and thought it
deserved serious attention. They might not have
been riveting or scintillating -- but they had given
thought to issues that will affect all of us far into the
How do I know? Because I watched the
convention on C-SPAN -- the public affairs cable
network that shows the full conventions, that carries
every moment of every speech from the podium.
Devoid of the posturing of the analysts high up in
the hall, devoid of the smirks of the commentators,
the convention as C-SPAN showed it was -- I'll
just come right out and say it -- pretty interesting. It
was -- another old-fashioned phrase -- food for
Shallow people? Cynical people? Listen -- it's easy
to say that about politicians as a group, but you will
never find people more shallow or cynical than the
men and women who produce and program what
passes for prime-time television entertainment every
evening of the year. Next to what those people
produce for America's eyes and ears, what the
political men and women had to say in Philadelphia
last week was like a breeze of cleansing air.
Would I want to listen to the Republicans and the
Democrats every night? Of course not. But eight
nights every four years would not seem to be
requesting a lot from the networks. For the
networks to give the American people some help in
seeing the political parties' self-portraits would be,
among other things, the right thing to do.
And for those (perhaps many) people who
wouldn't want to watch?
Put the networks' prime-time entertainment
programs on cable for eight nights every four years.
The republic will
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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