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Democratic National Convention TV Coverage: Here's What You're Missing
August 26, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Every network made choices about what to show, and ignore, while covering the Democratic National Convention Monday night. Here are those choices, culled after watching coverage on 12 TV sets simultaneously...


Michelle Obama, the night's key keynote speaker in the final hour of prime time, was the only element of the DNC's first night to enjoy a clean sweep from the cable and broadcast networks. Obama's wife, and only Obama's wife, was televised live by everyone. Otherwise, there was a lot of picking and choosing -- and sometimes, the picks and choices were somewhat surprising.

C-SPAN covered everything. The next most comprehensive place to turn was PBS, which presented everything but the most minor of interstitial speakers.

On cable, CNN presented the Jimmy Carter video and appearance, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's introduction to Ted Kennedy and endorsement of Barack Obama -- but didn't run the Ted Kennedy tribute film co-created by Ken Burns. CNN also ignored the opening speech by Nancy Pelosi, but did televise remarks, in the same opening prime-time hour, by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

MSNBC, on the other hand, showed the Pelosi speech and the Kennedy video, which CNN skipped, but ignored the Carter tribute video and Jackson, which CNN showed.

And over on Fox News, the entire first hour of DNC material was ignored completely -- no Pelosi, no Carter, no Jackson. But Fox News, unlike CNN, did show the Kennedy tribute film, rather than spend the time with its own correspondents.


Finally, when the commercial broadcast networks deigned to chime in at 10 p.m. ET, only ABC took the time to present Ted Kennedy's stirring, unscheduled speech intact -- though it fudged a bit, while replaying the address that had taken place at 9:30, by tagging Kennedy's taped speech as having occurred "moments ago." CBS and NBC showed only the briefest of snippets, and all three broadcast networks, by limiting themselves to covering only the final hour of Monday's convention, deprived viewers of a thrilling piece of live TV history.

The short speech by Craig Robinson, who introduced his sister Michelle, was presented in full by CNN, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN, but only in part by Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC. David Gergen, on CNN, complained that the first two hours of night one were way too boring as a TV event. Except for Ted Kennedy, he wasn't wrong. And the only clever innovation to the coverage, on opening night, was CNN's addition of informative convention-history factoids as superimposed lower-third graphics.


Best parts of night one? Easy: the stirring speeches by Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama. But it also was nice to see, on MSNBC, the debut of Tim Russert's son, Luke, as a convention correspondent at large. Afterward, Tom Brokaw was smiling like a proud parent.

Most intriguing part of night one? The CBS coverage, which shot immediately at 11 p.m. ET from the broadcast network to its own CBS News website.


That's where Katie Couric held court, checked with several correspondents and analysts, and interviewed Caroline Kennedy. She was joking about being on a webcast, much the same way NBC's anchors and reporters, back when MSNBC was launched, joked about being on the hinterlands of cable. Now, clearly, it's no laughing matter.


Most cringe-inducing part of night one? Chris Matthews' rope-line interviews on MSNBC's Hardball, handing his live mike over to onlookers and protests, including two pro-Hillary, anti-Obama representatives from PUMA (a charming acronym for Party Unity, My Ass) who insisted they had proof, without providing it, that Barack Obama had registered as a Muslim as a school in Indonesia. Matthews refuted the charge, and basically dismissed the women, but not before giving them valuable air time.

"Classic agitprop," he told co-anchor Keith Olbermann later that night. "It's the kind of crap we shouldn't let get on television."

I couldn't agree more. Only problem is, Matthews is the guy who facilitated it.




christine said:

I have been looking for video of Luke Russert's debut, to no avail. It was definitely one of the major highlights of the night for me. Any suggestions? (I've erased my copy already -- so much TV, so little TiVo space -- but I expect MSNBC will be smart enough to post on its website soon enough, if it doesn't pop up on YouTube... -- David B.)

Comment posted on August 26, 2008 10:37 AM

Bill Chapman said:

I watched the entire three hours via streaming video from the Democratic Convention's web site (demconvention.com). I was a bit concerned prior to doing so, as my experiences with live, streaming video have not been terribly positive, especially on heavily watched events. However, the convention stream was spectacular - HD video that filled my entire computer display. And, I must say, I was relieved not to have to endure the nonsense that most "pundits" spew; and the cutaways that I find annoying, even on PBS. If this type of streaming video is the future, "bring it on!"

Comment posted on August 26, 2008 12:10 PM

keidalgrim said:

"...dumbass Puma, Hillary-lovin beotches. How did they let that get on the air. We're united, dammit. "

Comment posted on August 26, 2008 3:45 PM

Sally W. said:

I like the PBS coverage, even though I do have cable; PBS does seem much more comprehensive. I'm going to have to check more the networks and the cable networks - but they do seem to have less presentation (especially the networks for coming in at the 10pm hour). The panelists' discussion seem to go deeper on PBS too.

Comment posted on August 26, 2008 11:20 PM

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