- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000


No wonder the star-spangled uproar of the Republican convention seems straight out of Hollywood. The man behind it all is a veteran of the Oscars, the Grammys and Radio City Music Hall, where showbiz reigns.
The Philly convention "is classy," said producer David Nash.
"Lots of new faces, entertainment, stars, the rolling roll call," said CNN's Wolf Blitzer yesterday. "These are all good, interesting techniques which make for better television."
With 45 anchors and correspondents, five on-air "skybooths," nine networks, two radio networks and 12 Web sites, CNN is indeed a presence in Philadelphia.
And it knows it. CNN is determined to be, says President Richard Kaplan, "the network of record. Conventions are a critical part of American electoral process."
The old broadcast networks, however, don't see it that way, despite the fact that the GOP convention is TV-ready.
The traditional love affair between political parties and CBS, ABC and NBC is over. Due to lousy ratings and huge expenses, all three have cut down convention coverage to a quarter of what it was in 1980; CBS and NBC will offer 10 hours of coverage from Philadelphia; ABC, just five.
Network players have not hidden their dismay with the glitzy soul of the political process.
"If the parties want to put on a weeklong infomercial, they have the right to do that," said NBC's Tom Brokaw. "But we don't have to cover it."
ABC's Chris Bury thinks audiences are turned off by fancy TV.
"I know the political parties are always looking to get a big bounce out of their conventions," Mr. Bury said. "But we're under no obligation to inflate that balloon."
CBS President Andrew Heyward commented, "In making the conventions perfect enough to be TV shows, all the interest has been drained out of them."
Which brings up the old controversy of news packaged as entertainment, in the name of ratings. Does America need "the thrilla-in-Phila," so to speak?
No, say Republicans, who believe their convention is town meeting rather than Hollywood hokum and that reporting it does not belong to cable alone.
The networks "have a social and moral responsibility to do better," said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, who notes that 25 percent of Americans don't even get cable.
"Everything doesn't have to be controversial news. Some of it can be simply information," Mr. Nicholson said.
But in some cases, there is an overkill of information.
All networks clutter the screen with material. In coverage yesterday, FOX, for example, included a talking head, an info-box, a segment title, a station ID and a running stock report on the same screen, at the same time.
The networks, meanwhile, continue to bow out.
A study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs released yesterday found that ABC, CBS and NBC devoted 21 hours, 33 minutes to the presidential race through July 26 this year.
In 1996, the amount was 32 hours, 18 minutes.
"The 'big three' networks have handed off much of the campaign coverage to the 24-hour cable news networks and Internet sites," said study Director Robert Lichter. "America is on the verge of having a subscription democracy. If you're not wired in, you're disconnected from the political process."

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