Last week, possibly because I have few friends and no hobbies, I watched much of the Democratic National Convention, thanks to a few offbeat channels actually showing the thing. Like most of you, I also listened to and read what the media said about it.
And comrades, the media were remarkably full of shit.
Let me add that I usually defend the media. After all, I have been a part of it most of my semiadult life. The first thing every con artist, crooked politician and self-righteous fool does is to blame the press. You can always twist the dial and find somebody railing at the media for “distorting the truth,” by which they mean ... telling the truth.
But this was different. Partly, the trouble is the broadcast media have forgotten that one of the biggest skills a talking head needs is to know when not to talk. (When Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run, Ernie Harwell, doing the TV broadcast, simply said, “it’s gone,” and shut up. He knew the moment spoke for itself.) Today’s fancy mouths weren’t reporting; they were prattling. They ought to have let people watch more of what was going on and make up their own minds. Someone later admitted viewers might have had trouble actually watching the convention, because even most channels that claimed to cover it — such as CNN — mostly showed pundits talking about it. Since the major networks filled all but an hour or so a night with their usual sitcom garbage, you had to watch PBS or C-SPAN to actually see the convention.
Well, I did, and readers of this column may remember I haven’t been especially kind to the Democrats or to Al Gore this year. However, I came away from the convention curiously heartened. The vice president came across looking and sounding like — well, what we used to think of as a president: a fundamentally decent man who seemed surprisingly up to the job and able to inspire confidence both in himself and the country.
The Democrats themselves came across as real people; occasionally a bit ragged, maybe, but far more authentic than that bizarre colorized pageant in Philadelphia, in which many of the real Republicans (Jesse Helms, etc.) were artfully kept in the dungeon. A few examples of ways the media got it wrong.
- Myth No. 1: Every night, the CNN analysts said it was clear that Gore wasn’t getting the expected “bounce” in the polls from this convention. The polls were not moving; they said; Bush led, 53 percent to 39 percent, before it started.
When the convention was over, NBC found Gore had shot ahead, 46 percent to 39 percent, and Newsweek had him up, 48 percent to 42 percent. Huh?
- Myth No. 2: Tuesday’s “liberal night,” in which U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy and Jesse Jackson spoke was a disaster. Commentators said it was a mistake to give so much time to those identified with the past, etc.
Wrong. Political conventions are also gatherings of the clan. The Kennedys have been a major presence in our national life for decades, and Teddy Kennedy long has been one of the most powerful senators. Caroline, who most Americans remember as a 5-year-old playing in the Oval Office, is the last surviving child of the most glittering of all recent Democratic presidents, and the only Kennedy with an aura of mystery. Similarly, Jesse Jackson has been a major figure in the civil rights movement, arguably the most important United States political event in the last century. Besides, millions of people, not all of them black, voted for him for president in the 1980s. Granted, neither Teddy nor Jesse gave one of their best speeches. But they had to be heard.
For most people I know, they are now a reminder of past glory, not a threat to give our homes to welfare queens. And though they may be out of fashion with the hip, Rick Flynn, a delegate from Sterling Heights, told the New York Times “if (the ticket) is OK with Ted and Jesse, it’s sure as heck OK with me.”
By the way, it isn’t any accident the Republicans didn’t have an equivalent. Try to imagine Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Newt Gingrich night.
- Myth No. 3: The Democratic convention wasn’t as good as the Republican one. The same people who criticized the Republicans for staging a totally scripted affair then whined because the Democrats ran a little behind schedule! I thought they actually seemed like real people holding a real get-together. The day after it was over, some CNN reporter went to some blue-collar breakfast place in Kansas City, and asked the guys in flannel shirts. The first was a Republican, but said he had to admit that he thought Gore’s speech was better than Bush’s. All thought, to the reporter’s slight amazement, that the Democrats had done a pretty good job.
Now the conventional wisdom still thinks the odds are heavily in Bush’s favor, even though it is generally conceded that the economy is great; that Gore has considerably more experience and leadership skills, and that Joe Lieberman was a far better choice than Dick Cheney, who once voted to keep Nelson Mandela in jail. I think we may be headed for a classic upset of 1948 proportions.
Would You Believe Mayor Fieger? Those in the know say Geoffrey Fieger is seriously mulling over running for mayor of Detroit next year — but only if Dennis Archer bows out. With his history as a champion of African-Americans, that may not be as absurd as it sounds. Just imagine this runoff: Fieger vs. Sharon McPhail. Your bunker or mine?Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org