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A Justification for Media Coverage of the Conventions

I am tired of all the bitching from media mavens about how "unnewsworthy" the conventions are. This Boston Globe piece is really galling:

Addressing the challenges of covering politics in a politically polarized environment, the anchors acknowledged the impact of criticism and pressure, often from conservatives, that pours into their networks at unprecedented levels. In a January 2004 Pew Research Center survey that seemed to reflect conservative concerns about network coverage, only 24 percent of Republicans said they relied on ABC, CBS, or NBC as a main source of campaign news, compared with 40 percent of Democrats.

Rather stated that "fear has increased in every newsroom in America," and added that reporting on explosive issues can bring a torrent of e-mails and phone calls. That can lead to a situation, he said, in which journalists conclude that "when you run this story, you're asking for trouble with a capital 'T'. . . Why run it?"

Brokaw, referring to the president of the conservative watchdog organization, the Media Research Center, said conservatives "feel they have to go to war against the networks every day." Jennings added, "I hear more about conservative concerns than I have in the past. . . This wave of resentment rushes at our advertisers, rushes at our corporate suites. . . I feel the presence of anger all the time."

Although Jennings defended ABC's coverage of the period leading up to the war in Iraq, several of yesterday's speakers agreed that their news outlets had not been aggressive enough in examining the Bush administration's rationale for the conflict.
There are two obvious justifications for covering the conventions. The first, more superficial one, is that the people speaking, and the speeches themselves, are important. The media frequently cover as news the ramblings of random administration officials - they don't report them because the content is important or even true but because of who is speaking. Covering the conventions from this perspective certainly runs risks, though - the incessant nattering mocked by Stewart:
Here is Stewart's rendition of a typical television debate about the convention's impact on Kerry and Edwards:

"What kind of bump are they going to get?"

"I think one point."

"I think five points."

"I say 10."

"Ten? You're insane!"

Wait a minute -- wasn't that just on the air somewhere?
The second justification is the real one: the conventions are one of the prime battle grounds in a struggle over ideas. The press, out of ignonimous vapidity, never bothers to cover the ideological competition between the parties, letting talking heads fill the void. Of course, Republican talking heads are movement flacks, while Democratic talking heads are Milquetoast media personalities. Movement flacks obviously have their ideological talking points down a little tighter than people that haven't seen a movement since McGovern.

For instance, last night's convention speakers had a poetic unity that hasn't been covered anywhere, to my knowledge: the revitalization of the common good. Just weeks ago, conservatives accused Hillary Clinton of outright socialism for even mentioning the phrase. From Clinton's speech:
Democrats and Republicans have very different and honestly held ideas on that choices we should make, rooted in fundamentally different views of how we should meet our common challenges at home and how we should play our role in the world. Democrats want to build an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities and more global cooperation, acting alone only when we must.

We think the role of government is to give people the tools and conditions to make the most of their lives. Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people, in a world in which we act unilaterally when we can, and cooperate when we have to.

They think the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on matters like health care and retirement security. Since most Americans are not that far to the right, they have to portray us Democrats as unacceptable, lacking in strength and values. In other words, they need a divided America. But Americans long to be united. After 9/11, we all wanted to be one nation, strong in the fight against terror. The president had a great opportunity to bring us together under his slogan of compassionate conservatism and to unite the world in common cause against terror.
This is, in large part, what we stand for, Kennedy's request that we ask what we can do for our country. We reject the deplorable venality of conservatism; we hold out hope that we can actually work together to improve the future. They want to reduce the idea of democracy to participation in the market. We want to restore the idea that people have power.


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