NEW YORK CITY.
The newspaperman is all but extinct, and the political “journalist” who succeeded him hardly knows about red meat. The mere aroma of a good cut of bull, beef or bear, or even ham, ram and lamb, makes girlie men faint.
Zell Miller, who set Madison Square Garden afire with a keynote address that scorched John Kerry’s nether region, was treated as a madman from Mars by most of the celebrity commentators, pundits and party hacks and flacks.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer made the mistake of asking Mr. Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia, why he “seemed very angry.”
“No, no,” the senator replied. “I’m sorry if I gave that appearance.”
“You seemed so angry that there were already some suggesting that the appearance could backfire from the cause you’re promoting tonight.”
“I’m sure,” the senator replied. “Probably some anchors are saying that. That’s what anchors do.”
Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” demanded an explanation of how Mr. Miller could have accused Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, who famously voted against appropriating the $87 billion needed to supply adequate arms for the American forces in Iraq, of wanting to arm the troops with “spitballs.”
“Nothing could be clearer,” Mr. Miller replied, ” … than what John Kerry did when he voted against that $87 billion in appropriations that would have provided protective armor for our troops and armored vehicles.”
When the “Hardball” host continued to ask questions and offer answers before he could respond — the patented Chris Matthews method of interviewing — the senator exploded.
“Get out of my face,” he said. “If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer. I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel … don’t pull that kind of stuff on me.”
To rub it in, CNBC put a call-in poll on the Internet, asking who would win such a duel, and by early evening 86 percent of the Matthews viewers predicted that when the gun smoke cleared the remains of Chris (no doubt his tongue still flapping) would be dispatched to the morgue.
Nevertheless, the 72-year-old senator frightened girlie men of the generation following his. George Stephanopoulos, the spinmeister for Bill Clinton currently in residence at ABC-TV, said terrified Democratic e-mail correspondents told him Zell Miller reminded them of Pat Buchanan. A correspondent for Time magazine said he had never heard a speech so “ugly.” Mort Kondracke of Fox News Channel sniffed that the speech was “something that the Democrats have not done.” Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he felt sorry for parents who had to make their children quit watching the speech. (And all Mr. Miller did was give oral speech.)
There were a few cool media heads who had either seen it all, or heard about it all, before. “It was prosecution night and Zell Miller delivered a stemwinder that was like Harry Truman giving ‘em hell,” said David Brooks of the New York Times. Agreed Jeff Greenfield of CNN: “lt’s kind of a throwback to the kind of speeches that were routine decades ago.”
Indeed. The national nominating conventions have become so dull, so scripted and so predictable that only a “journalist” or a political-science professor could stay awake through a single session. Newspapermen who are not even old enough to remember give-‘em hell Harry would die of boredom before the first roll call, which, as it happened, the Republicans only reluctantly bothered to take.
Take it they did, in bits and pieces over two days. George W. Bush accepted the nomination last night. But for Zell Miller’s appeal for restoration of the code duello, it was the only surprise of the week.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.