- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

ON MEDIA

The Democratic convention has been shrill, for the most part, and without gravitas. A few tepid questions lingered this week:

Would Al Gore achieve escape velocity from Bill Clinton? Was Joe Lieberman selling out? Would the Clintons ever, ever leave?

But there was one burning question: Did the Democrats get more TV coverage than Republicans? The answer lies in the numbers in the minutiae of the minutes.

C-SPAN kept a "Podium Watch" at both conventions a revealing daily tally of airtime given both parties. And according to the numbers, the Democrats won.

For its part, C-SPAN gave gavel-to-gavel coverage of both conventions. Here is how things shake out elsewhere.

Both parties got equal coverage only once, from only one network. On opening night, Fox gave Democrats and Republicans an hour and 17 minutes of air time.

CNN gave Republicans 50 more minutes of coverage than Democrats on day one, and 17 minutes more on day two. On day three, Fox gave Republicans 11 more minutes of air time.

The rest of the time, the Democrats ruled the airwaves.

CBS was the worst offender, giving Democrats 57 more minutes of coverage than the Republicans in the first three days of coverage. ABC followed with 54 more minutes, and NBC with 51 more minutes.

The Fox network gave the GOP three more minutes, while CNN was the most Republican friendly, granting the party 50 more minutes of coverage.

Such statistics might cause some to lapse into a semi-coherent state. Others were pretty riled.

Yesterday, Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, suggested that the Federal Election Commission be brought in to determine if the "equal time" factor should come into play during convention coverage.

President Clinton's farewell speech on Monday, Mr. Bonilla said, "was not a policy speech. It was a political message. If the difference in coverage had been a few minutes here and there, that is acceptable. But if it is so blatant as it has been this far, is it not an in-kind contribution?"

Hillary Rodham Clinton's address not as outgoing first lady but as rabid political candidate also caused some controversy. Mrs. Clinton garnered expensive prime time for her cause; some network executives hinted they had been duped into covering while waiting for her husband to appear.

"I do feel that, inadvertently or deliberately, we were manipulated, and it certainly turned out to be a favorable night for the Democrats," noted Andrew Heyward of CBS earlier this week."

Democratic officials blamed the whole thing on "opening night jitters."

Republicans, meanwhile, have been in a spitting match with the networks since Philadelphia, accusing CBS, ABC and NBC of "dereliction of duty" because the three have cut back convention coverage in recent years.

The networks claim these gatherings are pure hokum an infomercial or partisan love fest.

But RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson thinks the three "have a social and moral responsibility to do better … everything doesn't have to be controversial news. Some of it can be simply information."

Despite such angry posturing, the telegenic charisma of party players and the content of their message may predominate.

Is George better than Al in this arena? Some think so.

A study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that coverage has favored Mr. Bush.

In evening newscasts through March this year, the study found 53 percent of the comments about Mr. Bush were "positive, compared to 40 percent" for Mr. Gore.

This was, the study noted, "a significant shift" from the '92 and '96 campaigns, in which Mr. Clinton got "far more positive coverage."

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