- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

ON MEDIA

As weary journalists trudge home from Philadelphia, the folks out Los Angeles way are revving their engines, intent on presenting a less than glamorous star against a glittering Hollywood backdrop.
For benefit of media and public alike, Vice President Al Gore and company will be wrapped in virtue officials say they'll stage "the most environmentally safe Democratic convention in history … the greatest political convention on the planet," chairman Lydia Camarillo noted Thursday.
It all begins in nine days just 216 hours away, or 12,960 minutes. But who's counting?
C-SPAN has been counting the broadcast minutes, at least.
All week long, the cable channel has kept "Podium Watch," an often revealing daily tally of network coverage of the Republican National Convention.
How specific is this bean-counting minutiae? C-SPAN breaks down the coverage into five categories: podium speeches, convention "features," analyses, advertisements and non-convention programming.
It's a succinct way to judge both the quantity of coverage and the quality of news judgment behind it.
In a well-publicized spitting match this week, heavyweights at CBS, NBC and ABC have spurned and criticized the GOP convention, calling it an "infomercial" and scripted "love fest," among other things.
On average, the three networks each offered a mere 40 minutes per night to what many feel is a significant political and cultural event scripted or not.
GOP officials responded in kind, accusing the networks of "dereliction of duty," and more.
Will this also happen at the Democratic convention? Some fret the old liberal news bias will come to life, with networks offering more chummy coverage to Mr. Gore against the traditionally Democrat-friendly California stage.
Odds are, they won't.
A few watchdogs will oversee them from the sidelines, adding up C-SPAN's meticulous minute-counting and sniffing about for even a hint of favorable bias toward the Democrats.
So far, only ABC has stepped forward to guarantee its coverage in Los Angeles and Philadelphia will be "identical it's going to stay the same," said spokeswoman Sonya McNair Thursday.
Meanwhile, C-SPAN reports CBS and ABC both broadcast 41 minutes of the convention Wednesday night, NBC 46 minutes. This is in contrast to say, Monday night, when ABC offered 36 minutes, CBS 16 minutes and NBC zilch, leaving coverage to its companion network, MSNBC.
Thursday night, all of them faithfully bellied up to the podium to carry George W. Bush's nearly hourlong speech.
Other groups also police the coverage. Earlier this week, the Center for Media and Public Affairs released a study of broadcast network election coverage, revealing the three had cut back by a third since 1996.
In addition, a new Annenberg Public Policy Center study noted Tuesday, "it does not appear that attention to news media, particularly the networks, is boosting the electorate's knowledge of the candidates."
The study found 55 percent of the public didn't know enough about the candidates to make "an informed choice" come November.

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