Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Television coverage of the upcoming political conventions either will be feast or famine.

When the parties gather separately for four days of speechifying and hoopla, cable news channels will present a veritable banquet for viewers for days on end. Broadcast networks, however, will offer just an appetizer: an hour each day from 10 to 11 p.m.

CNN will begin 10 days of Democratic convention coverage Monday with a handful of personalties, eventually reaching a full complement of 30 anchors and analysts when the soiree convenes on July 26 in Boston.

“It’s a big story. Conventions are still interesting for people who closely follow politics. We’ll focus on the candidates and issues, on the passion of the delegates,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s senior political producer.

“And this is cable. We don’t need 100 million people watching to feel we have a strong audience,” he added.

It similarly will cover the Republican convention that begins Aug. 30 in Manhattan.

Fox News, meanwhile, is ramping up its coverage by about a third compared with the 2000 convention.

It’s slim pickings at the networks, though.

Coverage on CBS, ABC and NBC will showcase major moments rather than nuance. Four years ago, Al Gore’s new earth-toned wardrobe and public kiss with his wife, Tipper, warranted much discussion among broadcast observers; ABC’s Ted Koppel pronounced Mr. Gore to be newly “buff” at the time.

Things change, though. Mr. Koppel called the conventions nothing more than “publicity-making machines” during a meeting of television critics on Monday.

Networks have gotten so choosy that a speech from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has been cut from network coverage. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also has been edited out of the lineup during the Republican convention.

One Republican official said he was surprised that the networks would omit events in their broadcasts. But the GOP also is poised to be a counterbalance.

“For four days, the Boston convention will serve as the Democrat’s great salon. Those who have been watching the Democrats over the last year may not recognize what emerges each day, but don’t worry. We will be there to help, ready with the real record,” Republican National Committee director Jim Dyke said yesterday.

Still, all three networks at least hope to lend the appearance that they will provide “gavel-to-gavel” coverage by beefing up their Web sites and companion radio broadcasts, picking up select news content from cable channels and offering live webcasts of the conventions.

ABC News, in fact, has billed its effort a “digital news channel,” which will operate 24 hours a day until the election in November.

Both political parties will offer convention press credentials to a limited number of “bloggers” — those eager Internet writers who articulate belligerent but often amusing or insightful ideological observations to regular online readers.

Two hundred applied for credentials in Boston; about 30 were accepted, including the Democratic-leaning Burnt Orange Report, Daily Kos, Pandagon.net and TalkLeft, according to the Associated Press.

• Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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