No News Is Bad News: TV and the Conventions

Gone are the spontaneous floor events where delegates march, laugh, maybe argue with each other, and actually participate in helping shape the direction of their party, even when the nominee was an incumbent president. Does anyone hear about the party’™s platform and its planks now? Does anyone even care?

Commentary By: Walter Brasch

During the time that Bill Clinton was rocking the Democratic convention, ABC, CBS, and Fox were showing re-runs, NBC was showing the second hour of ‘œAmerica’™s Got Talent,’ and the CW was showing the second season finale of ‘œPussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious.’

Less than two decades ago, the networks gave the conventions gavel-to-gavel coverage. This year, the networks are giving only four hours prime time coverage to each convention.

The first televised conventions were in Philadelphia in 1948. At the time, only about 170,000 of the nation’™s 42.2 million households had televisions. The networks, desperate to fill their government-issued airwaves, begged the nation to believe that television was at the cutting edge of the future. TV needed politicians; politicians weren’™t so sure they needed TV. By 1960, more than 46 million of the nation’™s 58 million households had at least one TV set, and most stations were broadcasting at least 16 hours a day. If anyone doubted the potential and power of television, it was quashed that year during the televised Nixon’“Kennedy debates which gave the Massachusetts senator a lead he never lost. Eight years later, the cameras recorded the Chicago riots, giving credibility to the antiwar movement and virtually destroying the Democrats’™ chance to defeat Richard Nixon, even though the liberal Hubert Humphrey deplored the police response and Mayor Richard Daley’™s iron fist tactics.

Once, the parties’™ nominees for president were usually determined at the convention itself, not months earlier in the media-enhanced primary campaigns. On the floor of the convention, we at home, watching on 17-inch TV sets, looked forward to the roll call, as each state’™s chairman stood up, usually dressed in something red-white-and outrageous, and declared for all America to hear, something to the effect: ‘œMr. Chairman, the great and glorious state of Globule Gulch, home of more than 50 hotdog stands per square mile and the most beautiful women on earth, the place where George Washington once slept and where cows peacefully graze on our healthy grass, proudly casts it 85 votes for its favorite son, Governor Lushpuppy Billings.’

By the late 1980s, TV demanded more and more, and the party leaders began to stage prime time shows to play to TV’™s prime’“time necessities.

Gone are the spontaneous floor events where delegates march, laugh, maybe argue with each other, and actually participate in helping shape the direction of their party, even when the nominee was an incumbent president. Does anyone hear about the party’™s platform and its planks now? Does anyone even care? The signs on the convention floor are cookie-cutter conformity. The delegates are nothing more than props. Their role is to go to the myriad lobbyist-prepared parties, have fun, and act as extras for the show unfolding before them, and then go home and rally the grassroots support.

Last week, Barack Obama and his campaign staff controlled every aspect of the convention, including who would be the speakers, what and how they would say it, when each would appear and for how long. Only President Clinton’™s speech wasn’™t vetted. It won’™t be any different this week with the Republicans, but the Republicans may have to check President Bush’™s speech ahead of time, ‘™lest it become more comedic than planned.

It was the television media that created the atmosphere that demanded ‘œinteresting visuals’ and the seven-second sound bite; and now the media are upset that politicians, in their infomercial packaged conventions that play to the camera, have nothing to say. The networks, which created the monster, are crying there isn’™t any news’”and they cut away from what is interesting, such as the speech by President Clinton’”and turn the cameras onto themselves. The pontificating pundits with their semi-erudite commentaries and all-knowing blather that bores viewers more than any politician’™s 20-minute speech, now dominate the prime time coverage and pretend what they’™re saying actually matters. It’™s hard to believe that 16,000 members of the media credentialed to cover each convention couldn’™t find any news.

But, there is news. There are stories. The networks, sitting on their plush assets, have failed to dig out these stories to better help Americans understand the issues that affect them. And so the celebrity-driven media spent more time percolating the story of the division between the Hillary and Obama forces than trying to help Americans better understand the issues. If the mainstream media were to leave their color-coordinated broadcast booths and hospitality suites, as the alternative media have done, and dig beneath the puffery and pageantry, they may find the greater social and political issues that need to be reported, as well as the delightful ‘œslice of life’ stories that help us better understand our own lives.

The first TV conventions were the best of the emerging Reality TV programming before the medium sunk into who would eat what disgusting insect. America needs both the conventions and the media to be more real.

[Walter Brasch'™s latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]

Sunday, August 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Darwin Award Winners – 2008

Live, from Houma, Louisiana


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The early voting for the 2008 Darwin Awards goes to these guys, partying in advance of Hurricane Gustav’s arrival in Houma, Louisiana.

Monday update: The live cam is down this morning (for obvious reasons). I’ll leave this post up and we’ll see if it comes back. Reports are coming in that Gustav weakened overnight, is coming in west of New Orleans, and hopefully will be no more than a windy (and wet) inconvenience to gulf coast residents.

Sunday, August 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

CNBC: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is McCain’s Choice

Groundbreaking? Or is it that no one else wanted the gig?

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Take this for what it’™s worth, and what you paid for the information:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a self-styled ‘œhockey mom’ who has only been governor for a little over a year, is GOP Presidential candidate John McCain’™s choice for Vice President, CNBC has learned.

According to a Republican strategist, Palin is the nominee, though McCain’™s campaign has not comfirmed this’¦

Please, let it be so. More as developments warrant (or as warrants are issued).

Update, 10:40AM: Fox News is confirming. And, more here.

Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

McCain Has Always Used “A Noun, A Verb, POW” in Debates

How long has John McCain used the ‘œnoun, verb, POW’ strategy in his campaigns? Since his very first campaign nearly 30 years ago. He didn’™t do it then to deflect attention from not wanting to answer how many homes he owned. He did it to deflect from his opponent calling him a carpetbagger.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

We’™ve got many people wondering whether McCain uses the phrase at one of his many dinner tables instead of asking Cindy McCain to pass the potatos. Time Magazine has looked up a few facts from John McCain’™s first run for office nearly 30 years ago. Sure enough, when challenged, McCain used the same defense. A noun, a verb, POW. Here it is from Time magazine:

When he first ran for Congress in Arizona nearly three decades ago, John McCain had one clear liability: he wasn’™t from the state, and he could count the number of years he had lived there on a couple of fingers.

So his primary opponent, state senator Jim Mack, attacked him as a Johnny-come-lately. To counter the charge, at a candidate forum, McCain offered a decidedly pointed response. ‘œI wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things,’ he said. ‘œAs a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.’

The rest of Time’™s article is far too evenhanded. We all know McCain says constantly that he doesn’™t want to trade on his experiences as a POW to get votes, and we all see him doing it time after time after time. Nobody in the mainstream media will call him on it. Time comes close here, but surely skirts the issue, quoting Pat Buchanon who says it is a strategy that ‘œworks.’ Doesn’™t anyone think there is an ethical problem with cheapening the notion of service by using it as a whiney excuse for not remembering something as simple as how many homes you own?

Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Where Were You on 8/29/2005?

On August 29, 2005, George Bush and John McCain were celebrating McCain’s birthday. Less than a day earlier, the National Weather Service had issued an ominous warning for the Gulf Coast. And while Bush and McCain were eating cake a day later, the U.S. Gulf Coast was drowning…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

The moment the weather bulletin below was issued, I was stunned. I’ve been a sky watcher for many years, because I find the intensity of Mother Nature fascinating. But never, in all my years of practicing amateur meteorology, have I ever seen a warning like this, issued by an agency of the U.S. government:

URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED…

.HURRICANE KATRINA…A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH…RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS…PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL…LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE…INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY…A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT. AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD…AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS…PETS…AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS…AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS…

So, where were you on 8/29/05?

Where were you on 8-29-05?

We know where these guys were.

Image above shamelessly misappropriated from SailNet.

Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

GOP to Delay Convention Because of Gustav?

Gustav is coming, and the Republicans are talking about postponing their convention and also getting Bush off the stage. The former is a stupid idea, as this convention is the life blood of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The latter, getting Bush off the stage to minimize memories of GOP incompetence in handling Katrina, is a good idea for them.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

That’s the report I’ve been hearing. The Republicans are thinking of delaying their convention because of the seriousness of the threat Hurricane Gustav poses as it barrels down on their convention city, Minneapolis. As we know, Minneapolis is particularly vulnerable to Hurricanes, as it sits right there on the Mississippi River. But wait, it is also well over a thousand miles from where meteorologists are predicting landfall. So, what’s the reason for this threatened postponement, anyway? Here’s how the Washington Post describes the issue as it stands, but of course they don’t get it right because they are too timid to call it like it is.

Republican officials said yesterday that they are considering delaying the start of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is on track to hit the Gulf Coast, and possibly New Orleans, as a full-force hurricane early next week.

The threat is serious enough that White House officials are also debating whether President Bush should cancel his scheduled convention appearance on Monday, the first day of the convention, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussion.

For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain’s formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee.

Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be dubious.

Let’s leave aside the usage of the word “dubious” here by those members of the press at the Washington Post. Why would the Republicans consider postponing one of the largest conventions in America and putting out all the caterers, hotels, restaurants, all the economic impact to the city of Minneapolis? Why would the Republican Party stir up economic problems? Well, they say they are being sensitive, though surely they knew that this week Katrina would be memorialized by the survivors, and they arranged their convention for this week anyway. Besides, Republican comments back when Katrina happened were far from sensitive. I remember comments about lawlessness, lack of morals and the like. Those comments were absolutely racist, in no uncertain terms, and you still hear them on occasion from the Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world. Only now do we get an attempt at “sensitivity” on the part of the GOP. Surely the Republican Party is working from embarrassment, from the notion that they’ve got to keep their people from declaring Gustav a plague brought by God, as Pat Robertson so infamously did with Katrina, a deserved punishment for sinners, and the like. They’re simply afraid of bad public relations, not necessarily concerned with helping folks prepare for Gustav.

What are the Republicans going to do once they postpone the Convention? Are they all going to rush to New Orleans and load up the sandbags? I sincerely doubt it. Is John McCain going to act the hero and work to save the city, or succor the injured and homeless after the disaster? I’ll bet he tries, and I’ll bet Bush’s government gives him every photo-opportunity to accomplish such a goal. It will be a sham, of course. You see, Bobby Jindal and Mayor Nagin and Michael Chertoff seem to be prepared this time, and it’s a good thing they learned from the massive incompetencies that were the Bush response to Katrina. (Bush and McCain response?) And I’ve got faith in the American people that they will see through the sham.

Gustav poses severe problems for the Republicans. That doesn’t bother me a bit. What they should do, in all seriousness, assuming Gustav actually does some damage, is to mention it during their convention, but not excessively. They should talk about faith-based and other nonprofit disaster relief agencies and praise their role. They should note the ways John McCain helped during Katrina, too, and should confront head on the Marie Antoinette issue – the picture of McCain and Bush with the cake. What they will do? They’ll call for additional prayers in the Convention Hall, and they’ll mention Gustav in nearly every speech. A few delegates will go off the reservation and will talk of Katrina and the crime and the horrid images from when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and they will do so with their feet in their mouths. Too many people touching on that message and someone is going to screw up. It will happen, no doubt about it.

This is, truly, a no-win situation for the Republicans, but they should not postpone, and they should not pretend they are thinking of it. That would be fiscally irresponsible, and irresponsible to thousands of conventioneers who are ordinary Republicans who can’t easily disrupt their lives. Postponing would be showing a false type of concern, in my view. They should admit that the response to Katrina was piss poor, and then note how well the resonse to Gustav is going under the admirable leadership of Bobby Jindal. They should do so in the time slot reserved for Jindal’s speech, showing, then, Republicans responding to crisis instead of responding to politics. In short, they should try to change their image.

Here’s my prediction. Hurricane Gustav is going to go down in history as the first Hurricane anywhere ever to strike two cities one thousand miles apart in one day. The strike it makes against New Orleans will be lesser than the strike it makes against the GOP in Minneapolis, whether they are postponed or not. The GOP have a natural disaster on their hands, and they will make a mistake handling it, but the mistake will not likely harm their brand in one sense – they pretend to be the party of efficient government, you know. It will reinforce what has become the Republican brand, that they will do anything at all to win an election, even to the point of exploiting people being evacuated from a natural disaster. Someone call Brownie. He probably learned a lesson from Katrina. I’m pretty sure the Republicans have not as they focus on public relations over all other things.

Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Live Blogging – Invesco Field

‘¦from the Mile High City’¦

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The past couple of nights have been a lot of fun at ASZ, with Daniel DiRito onsite at the Dem Convention in Denver doing both live commentary and video from the Pepsi Center, and the rest of the ASZ regulars (and even some irregulars) sniping from the comfort of our keyboards. If you haven’™t yet had the opportunity to join us, check it out today starting around 6PM EDT. To get a sense of how much fun this has been, click here, then click on the paused live blog. You’™ll get a recap of yesterday’™s events.

This evening, the scene shifts to Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech. The Dem (and GOP) concern trolls are already out in force, and are pontificating that such a large audience at the stadium will only serve to reinforce the GOP’™s ‘œrock star’ meme of Obama.

So, join us tonight and avoid the gasbaggery of the cable news talking heads and the GOP toadies who are mucking up the TV coverage of the event! We’™re not quite sure how well the video and audio feed will work out from Invesco Field (this whole thing’™s been a technology learning experience on the fly), but we’™ll be here until the events wrap up.

Please, enjoy responsibly! :D

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

GOP Racist Wins Party Office in Florida

Down in Limbaugh and Coulter coutry, Palm Beach County, they just elected a Republican Committeeman with plenty of White Supremacist experience. Heck, his Dad is a former KKK Grand Wizard and his Mom used to be married to David Duke. Derek Black still lives at home, but may not end up as a committeeman after all.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

OK, he’™s just going to be GOP Committeeman in Palm Beach, but there’™s no doubt Derek Black has some fine racist roots. He’™s just a teenager, but he’™s the son of Donald Black, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and publisher of the racist web site stormfront.org (sorry, I will not link there). His mother is David Duke’™s ex-wife. If that isn’™t enough, young Mr. Derek Black was quite the little Klansman in his impressionable youth. From the Palm Beach Post:

Young Derek Black is still living at his family’™s home on Lakeland Drive, according to records.

It is from that location that Don Black, his dad, produces a racist Web site, www.stormfront.org. Several entries in blogs on the site Wednesday were stuffed with ethnic slurs directed at blacks, Jewish people and Hispanics, in addition to spelling and grammar mistakes.

But Derek has also made a name for himself in this country’™s white supremacist crowd.

In 2001, he was just 12 when USA Today highlighted his work at creating a children’™s page on stormfront.org. That page included white supremacist songs, bulletin boards and anti-Martin Luther King bedtime stories. Don Black, the story pointed out, keeps a photo of his son in a Confederate uniform on his desk.

The teenage boy, who sports flaming red hair, is currently listed as a radio commentator on his dad’™s site.

To the Republicans credit, they are saying they require candidates to sign a loyalty oath, and Derek Black has not done so. They’™re going to disqualify him. They require loyalty oaths???

The real problem here is that the Republican Party down in the Coulter and Limbaugh part of Florida didn’™t do a good job vetting their candidates. Sure, they see their mistake now, but it is their incompetence that got them into this mess. Still, a group that requires loyalty oaths fits right in whith White Supremacist groups, doesn’™t it?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Busy News Day Roundup: Ney, McCain, Gustav

The news is coming hot and heavy today. Bob Ney claims he was a “political prisoner”, Gustav is poised to take no prisoners on the gulf coast on the 3 year anniversary of Katrina, and McCain is poised to announce his VP selection (who presumably isn’t in prison).

Commentary By: Richard Blair

It’s one of those days where there’s so much to keep up with – and damn the luck, I have a day job and just can’t do justice to all of the breaking news. Here’s a quick roundup:

Bob Ney: “BushCo Went After Me Because of Iran”

I’m not sure why this story never became a bigger deal than it was when it broke last year – basically, convicted Abramoff felon Bob Ney is saying that the BushCo DOJ went after him so hard because he forwarded “peace proposals” from Iran to the Whitehouse in 2003 (via the Swiss embassy). The existence of the proposal has been previously verified by several people close to the discussions, however, the Cheney / Rumsfeld cabal put the kibosh on engaging Tehran. More background here and here. It’s amazing that the legacy media can go after a sex scandal so voraciously, but when it comes to a story like this, there’s no investigation and it falls down the memory hole.

Officials may evacuate New Orleans as Gustav nears

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Gustav’s arrival. The storm has already affected my own work life rather dramatically, since many of the customers I deal with are in the deep south and/or on the gulf coast. They’re in a panic mode. And it’s quite serendipitous that an evacuation order for New Orleans could come as soon as tomorrow, the anniversary of Katrina. As Steven noted earlier, should Gustav ramp up as predicted, he could overshadow the GOP convention early next week.

McCain selects his VP

Proving that there is indeed no honor among thieves, the GOP is doing everything possible to steal the thunder from the wrap-up of the Dem convention this evening. McCain will be making a live address / ad this evening, right in the middle of the Dem proceedings at Invesco Field in Denver.

I remember a time in the not too distant past when both political parties honored their opposition’s “day in the sun”, and that there were (for all intents and purposes) gentlemen’s agreements that there wouldn’t be any overt campaigning by the opposition during either party’s convention. The GOP already parachuted Rudy Gi911iani and Mitt Romney into Denver to grab some spotlight (Gi911iani was given a big segment on NPR’s Morning Edition today). And now the McCain camp is desperately trying, via their Drudgehorn, to get the chattering class chattering about his pick this evening, rather than the pinnacle of the Dem convention. And it’ll probably work.

One can only hope that the Dems have a similar plan for next week. I hate tit-for-tat politics as much as the next person, but what the GOP has been trying to pull all week (with some degree of success) isn’t sporting in the least. But then, in their recent Rovian history, that particular attribute hasn’t been much of a concern to the snipers in the Republican Party.

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

ASZ: Live at the Democratic National Convention

ASZ’s Daniel DiRito will be reporting next week from the Democratic National Convention. We have some exciting plans in the works, including live interactive blogging and video/audio streams of floor interviews and convention activities. We’re stoked…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

This is a pretty exciting announcement, on several levels.

Starting Monday, 8/25, All Spin Zone’s Daniel DiRito (who is also the blogmaster at Thought Theater) will be covering the Democratic National Convention live from Denver as a credentialed blogger.

“So what?”, you might ask. “You won’t be able to swing a dead cat and not hit a blogger at the convention.”

Here’s what. We’ve been testing some bleeding edge technology that promises to push the boundaries of live web coverage capabilities, including an interactive live blogging interface (yes, ASZ readers get to participate also) and a live, streaming audio / video feed of Daniel as he works the convention floor, conducts interviews, and gives us his impressions of the proceedings. We’ve been blown away by the capabilities of the technology, and think that you will be, as well.

Complete details will be rolled out in the next couple of days, but suffice it to say that it will be difficult to find a more personal (and non-corporate media controlled) source of independent convention coverage on the web than you’ll get next week on ASZ.

In between Daniel’s live coverage stints, Steven and I will be offering our own commentary on convention developments and other news of the day. It looks to be an exciting week, so we hope you’ll bookmark ASZ and join us as the festivities unfold!

Thursday, August 21st, 2008 by Richard Blair |
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