Ira Teinowitz is covering the Democratic and Republican conventions, documenting how television and advertisers mix it up with the politicians.


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Breaking Convention

Football Cooperates, Audience Doesn't for McCain Speech

September 4, 2008 8:04 PM

Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech was carried by all the TV networks tonight after NBC's coverage of a football game ended just before Mr. McCain took the stage.

Inside the Xcel Energy Center, Sen. McCain was twice interrupted by protesters, with one holding a sign saying "McCain votes against vets."

While the TV audience probably couldn't see the protest, delegates inside the hall responded with shouts of "USA, USA," forcing Mr. McCain to interrupt his speech.

Republicans tonight have one benefit Democrats never saw—balloons.

Democrats had to abandon balloons after moving their final night to the outdoor Invesco Stadium in Denver from the convention center. The Republicans have balloons.

Voice of Experience Discusses Convention Coverage

September 4, 2008 3:09 PM

The grand old man of broadcast TV’s convention coverage, Les Crystal, is again on the scene for the Republican National Convention.

This time he’s not actually producing PBS’ convention coverage, a job he handled at every political convention since moving from NBC to PBS’ “The NewsHour” in 1983. But the 73-year-old Mr. Crystal, president of McNeil/Lehrer Productions, is on the scene, as he has been at most national political conventions since 1968.

His role has changed. In 1968 Mr. Crystal was associate producer for NBC for scenes outside the convention center—a job that got a little more interesting when major protests broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Subsequently Mr. Crystal became executive producer of “The NBC Nightly News,” president of NBC News, executive producer of NBC’s Election Night and convention coverage and supervisor of all political and special news coverage.

The conventions, meanwhile, went through their own alterations.

“It’s changed,” Mr. Crystal said. “Certainly in the 1960s and early 1970s there was some question about what was going to happen … either the nomination or who was going to get the vice presidential nomination or how the platform was going to be worked out. But from 1976 on, with direct primaries, the convention choices were made before you got to the convention, so today versus 40 years ago, there is no contest over the nominee and no contest over the platform.”

Another major change, he said, is the growth of cable news channels and the decrease of broadcast network coverage.

Also changed is the way the conventions take place.

“The programming has gotten more choreographed. It’s now designed for the television audience rather than the people in the hall,” he said.

Finally, security has been ramped up.

“Since 2004 it is very intense. I’m always struck by the irony of this important symbolic event of the democratic process and this intense security.”

Mr. Crystal said he sees PBS’ role in covering the conventions as being to offer more analysis than C-SPAN, but still give viewers more of a flavor of what is happening.

“I think we are a blend between what networks used to do and what C-SPAN does,” he said. “We are doing a blend of what’s going on at the podium plus analysis, so I think ensuring that the viewer is getting a very good sense of what is happening at the convention.”

He said that while he doesn’t watch what the cable channels do, viewers say “The NewsHour” provides more of the floor speeches than they do.

“We make it a point to get the very, very good speeches, but the important speeches that may not be headliners, so people have a good sense of what is going on the floor.”

In covering the conventions for three hours a night, PBS is filling the role traditionally held by the networks. The broadcast networks’ cutback in live coverage has drawn fire from some media critics, who note TV stations get their airwaves for free from the government and then don’t use them to cover one of the essential elements of American democracy—the party conventions.

Mr. Crystal said he understands that commercial networks get a wider audience through entertainment programming, so he is reluctant to criticize.

“I think it would be worthwhile if they did more,” he said. “I think it’s a critical moment that comes once every four years.”

'NBC' Chant Taunts Media

September 3, 2008 9:08 PM

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's criticism of the media Wednesday night drew delegates cry of "NBC" at the Republican National Convention.

Media Tackier Than Madonna Costume

September 3, 2008 9:06 PM

In a speech prior to Ms. Palin's, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee suggested media criticism had done the impossible in uniting the GOP behind the Republican ticket.

He called the media coverage "tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert."

Delegates Await Palin Speech

September 3, 2008 9:04 PM

It may be a shortened GOP convention, but it's an excited one as delegates await the speech of surprise VP choice Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

While the speech is expected to generate the biggest ratings to date for the Republican Convention—perhaps an even higher rating than that tomorrow for presidential candidate John McCain—here the priority is simply finding a seat in the hall.

Unlike last night, the Xcel center is filling quickly to hear Ms. Palin give an expected defense to her candidacy, rebuke the media for questioning her candidacy and a promise to campaign hard.

PBS's Jim Lehrer has returned here from Washington, meaning all the major network anchors are now back in St. Paul from trips Monday to cover Hurricane Gustav.

Republican Convention Getting Back on Track

September 2, 2008 12:58 PM

It appears to be a case of "meanwhile, back at the convention" tonight, as broadcast and cable networks prepare for the first full day of the Republican National Convention.

The Republican National Committee, rejiggering the convention schedule after Hurricane Gustav forced a shortened schedule yesterday, has added a speech by President Bush to tonight's plans. The Tuesday lineup already was scheduled to include a speech by Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Mr. Bush, who was to speak live on Monday, will speak via remote hookup.

McCain's VP Pick Has TV Experience

August 29, 2008 9:54 AM

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was selected today as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, may be best known for her political career, but her first job after returning to Alaska from college was as a part-time sports reporter for an Anchorage TV station.

Ms. Palin also was working as a commercial fisherman at the time, along with her husband, and the gig on TV apparently didn’t last long.

The TV job followed her graduation from the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism and a return to Alaska, where she grew up.

Speech Touts Parental Responsibility

August 28, 2008 8:48 PM

Amidst flashing cameras, and in front of a stadium-sized crowd, Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, making little mention of the media ownership issues that show up prominantly on his Web site.

Squarely aiming his speech at a broader audience, the Democratic candidate instead promised health care, tax cuts to most Americans and energy independence within 10 years. He also promised to alter the tax system to eliminate tax breaks for sending jobs overseas.

In the only veiled reference to media issues, Mr. Obama said, "Programs alone can't replace parents. Government can't turn off the TV and make a child do homework," meaning it's an issue of parental responsibility.

More From Invesco Field

August 28, 2008 5:04 PM

Well, the Democrats haven't left much out on the last night at the convention.

First there was Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson singing the national anthem to the accompaniment of fireworks. Then Will.i.am and John Legend did a live version of Will.i.am's "Yes We Can," which set Barack Obama's words to music.

Now Sheryl Crowe is singing a song that includes "A change will do us good" as a refrain.

We will soon interupt this musical message to return to your regularly scheduled politics.

But where oh where is Oprah?

P.S.: Invesco Field is now much more crowded.

P.S.S.: One of CNN's analysts is having trouble not swaying with the music

Playing the Field at Invesco

August 28, 2008 3:48 PM

At Invesco Field, the names on one balcony may be football players', but the field tonight is politics, as Democrats get ready for speeches from Al Gore and then Sen. Barack Obama, accepting his party's nomination for president.

The networks have made the switch to Invesco from the nearby Pepsi Center. In temporary booths roughly 20 feet apart tonight sit NBC's Brian Williams, CBS' Katie Couric and ABC's Charles Gibson, along with anchors from Fox and CNN.

But with about three hours to go before the top speakers begin, Invesco Field is still a long way from full.