No News is Bad News: TV News and The Political Conventions

This is another column by regular contributor Walter Brasch:

No News is Bad News:

TV News and The Political Conventions

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

           During the time that Bill Clinton was rocking the Democratic convention, ABC, CBS, and Fox were showing re-runs, NBC was showing the second hour of “America’s Got Talent,” and the CW was showing the second season finale of “Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious.”

           Less than two decades ago, the networks gave the conventions gavel-to-gavel coverage. This year, the networks are giving only four hours prime time coverage to each convention.

           The first televised conventions were in Philadelphia in 1948. At the time, only about 170,000 of the nation’s 42.2 million households had televisions. The networks, desperate to fill their government-issued airwaves, begged the nation to believe that television was at the cutting edge of the future. TV needed politicians; politicians weren’t so sure they needed TV. By 1960, more than 46 million of the nation’s 58 million households had at least one TV set, and most stations were broadcasting at least 16 hours a day. If anyone doubted the potential and power of television, it was quashed that year during the televised Nixon-Kennedy debates which gave the Massachusetts senator a lead he never lost. Eight years later, the cameras recorded the Chicago riots, giving credibility to the antiwar movement and virtually destroying the Democrats’ chance to defeat Richard Nixon, even though the liberal Hubert Humphrey deplored the police response and Mayor Richard Daley’s iron fist tactics.

           Once, the parties’ nominees for president were usually determined at the convention itself, not months earlier in the media-enhanced primary campaigns. On the floor of the convention, we at home, watching on 17-inch TV sets, looked forward to the roll call, as each state’s chairman stood up, usually dressed in something red-white-and outrageous, and declared for all America to hear, something to the effect: “Mr. Chairman, the great and glorious state of  Globule Gulch, home of more than 50 hotdog stands per square mile and the most beautiful women on earth, the place where George Washington once slept and where cows peacefully graze on our healthy grass, proudly casts it 85 votes for its favorite son, Governor Lushpuppy Billings.”

 

By the late 1980s, TV demanded more and more, and the party leaders began to stage prime time shows to play to TV’s prime-time necessities.

           Gone are the spontaneous floor events where delegates march, laugh, maybe argue with each other, and actually participate in helping shape the direction of their party, even when the nominee was an incumbent president. Does anyone hear about the party’s platform and its planks now? Does anyone even care? The signs on the convention floor are cookie-cutter conformity. The delegates are nothing more than props. Their role is to go to the myriad lobbyist-prepared parties, have fun, and act as extras for the show unfolding before them, and then go home and rally the grassroots support.

           Last week, Barack Obama and his campaign staff controlled every aspect of the convention, including who would be the speakers, what and how they would say it, when each would appear and for how long. Only President Clinton’s speech wasn’t vetted. It won’t be any different this week with the Republicans, but the Republicans may have to check President Bush’s speech ahead of time, ‘lest it become more comedic than planned.

           It was the television media that created the atmosphere that demanded “interesting visuals” and the seven-second sound bite; and now the media are upset that politicians, in their infomercial packaged conventions that play to the camera, have nothing to say. The networks, which created the monster, are crying there isn’t any news-and they cut away from what is interesting, such as the speech by President Clinton-and turn the cameras onto themselves. The pontificating pundits with their semi-erudite commentaries and all-knowing blather that bores viewers more than any politician’s 20-minute speech, now dominate the prime time coverage and pretend what they’re saying actually matters. It’s hard to believe that 16,000 members of the media credentialed to cover each convention couldn’t find any news.

           But, there is news. There are stories. The networks, sitting on their plush assets, have failed to dig out these stories to better help Americans understand the issues that affect them. And so the celebrity-driven media spent more time percolating the story of the division between the Hillary and Obama forces than trying to help Americans better understand the issues. If the mainstream media were to leave their color-coordinated broadcast booths and hospitality suites, as the alternative media have done, and dig beneath the puffery and pageantry, they may find the greater social and political issues that need to be reported, as well as the delightful “slice of life” stories that help us better understand our own lives.

           The first TV conventions were the best of the emerging Reality TV programming before the medium sunk into who would eat what disgusting insect. America needs both the conventions and the media to be more real.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]

 

Learning From Katrina

As New Orleans empties one must remember three years ago when George W. Bush camped out on his ranch in Crawford avoiding Cindy Sheehan and Camp Casey.  To try and distract the press he flew off to San Diego where he accepted a guitar then went to Arizona where he attended John McCain’s birthday party and held an event to convince Americans to privatize Medicare.

We all should remember the pictures from New Orleans while Bush fiddled his way through McCain’s birthday cake.  This time, as Gustav bears down, Bush is canceling his visit to St. Paul and the Republican National Convention.  My questions are these:  why do so many Americans have to die for George W. Bush to learn his lessons?  Why is John McCain so willing to cling to those failed policies?  And finally, how many more Americans will die before McCain learns?

We never did have an official investigation into who was to blame and why for Katrina.  Studying what went wrong would have better prepared us for Gustav.  How many will die next week because Bush and his minions were more concerned with protecting the arses than fixing what was wrong.

It isn’t a agme when lives are at stake.  Now more lives are at stake and, at least, Bush has the good sense to remain at the helm during a crisis.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is this year we can play the Blame Game and put accountability where it belongs.  Join in and play the Blame Game on November 4th before your community winds up like this:

Sarah Who?

That was my first reaction to the selection by John McCain of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, to be his running mate.

Obviously he is matching the old/young combination of the Obama model although McCain will argue he has it in the right order. I suspect he’s also trying to capture disaffected Hillary supporters although to match Hillary’s and Sarah Palin’s positions on ANY issue would take miracle. She’s pro-life, supports the death penalty, she opposes gay marriage and supports the denial of benefits to gay citizens, she is a life member of the NRA. On the social issues anyway she’s the antithesis of Hillary Clinton.

Governor of Alaska for 18 months or so, Sarah Palin describes herself as just a typical hockey mom. She first governed the town of Wasilla Alaska, population 7,000 (people)…the moose and elk population are unclear because of the nomadic nature of moose and elk, now she is the Governor of Alaska, population less than 2 times the population of Berks County (in people)…again the moose and elk population are larger in Alaska but are not counted because Sarah Palin view moose and elk as pests to be shot.

Our esteemed opponents from the other side of the aisle who argue that Obama is not ready to be President will, no doubt, have a interesting time explaining how Sarah Palin can fill those shoes if John McCain dies in office (which to me seems more likely than Obama dying in office).

When she asked “What does the VP do?” Bill Maher suggested the following answer, ‘They start wars, they enrich their friends, they subvert the Constitution and they shoot people in the face.” Given that she is currently under investigation for abuse of power she certainly will be on good footing should she take over for Dick Cheney.

McCain, who has been touting hemself as the only candidate who can protect us from the terrorists expects us to believe that if he dies this hockey mom can handle things? Maybe if the terrorists suddenly turn into to moose and start attacking us with snowballs!

I think the Democrats ignore Sarah Palin at there own peril and I think Senator Biden has a tough job to debate Ms. Palin and not come off as being disrespectful to a woman…personally I’d grind her into the dust but that would turn off woman voters and do more harm than good.

She may be a hockey mom with 5 kids including a down syndrome child (who, by the way is missing from EVERY family photo I’ve seen so far…does that tell you something about her family values?) but the more pictures I see and the more I read make me think that smile is pasted on.

Experience Counts? Welcome to Wasilla

After spending the past year assailing Barack Obama for lacking the experience to be president John McCain chose a running mate whose qualifications consist of being Governor of Alaska, a state with the population of Austin, Texas and the former Mayor of Wasilla.

Let’s examine her credentials.  With McCain celebrating his 72nd birthday and a cancer survivor, his running mate takes on more importance than Obama’s.  What is Wasilla and how does being its Mayor qualify Palin to possibly run the country?

Wasilla is small town an hour from Anchorage with about 7,500 people.  It is 12.4 square miles and has no zoning whatsoever.  Development is unplanned.  The city doesn’t even have a website for zoning any longer.  So what did she do as Mayor?  The town’s police force is only five years old and is small.  Somehow she parlayed this into fighting corruption in a state known for corruption.  She actively campaigned with indicted Sen. Ted Stevens though she seems to be hiding her connections with the corrupt Senator.

Wasilla’s website shows the fantastic Alaskan mountains and scenery but Palin seems bent on destroying her adopted state’s wilderness so mining interests can rape the land and bays.

Palin: Tool For Mining, Anti-Environmental Interests

john McCain is running for president partially on a platform of environmentalism, trying to convince voters he’s different.  However he has chose a running mate who is a climate change denier, opposed a Clean Water Initiative and is siding with Alaska’s vast mining interests against the salmon.  Interesting since her husband is a commercial fisherman.

As Governor Sarah Palin which would have protected Alaska’s water against acidic mine runoffs.  So much for the “green” John McCain.  Palin has also supported the mining industry on a plan to build a dam to hold polluted mining water and endanger a huge salmon fishing area.  The bottom line is she is owned, lock, stock and barrel after barrel, by the oil and mining industries in Alaska.  She is so extreme on the issue she personally campaigned against the ballot initiative even though Alaskan law prohibits the Governor from so doing.

Bristol Bay is the most productive fishing area in the world.  Home to salmon, it is being endangered by mining interests who want to build a huge dam.  Palin supports the mining interests.

An enormous open pit copper and gold mine would be allowed and the dam would hold the acid waters and runoff produced by the mining.  This will greatly endanger the Bay.

Gov. Palin also opposed protecting the polar bear through the Endangered Species Act.

Raining on the Republican’s Parade

As Republicans prepare to hold their convention in the Twin Cities next week Hurricane Gustav heads for either Houston or New Orleans.  My word, who will they blame this time if it hits NOLA since the Governor is now a Republican?

Gustav will preempt much television coverage and remind voters of the Katrina fiasco and the mismanagement by Republicans which led to so many deaths.  It will highlight one of their biggest failures of the past eight years just when they’re unveiling their team.

I predict Sarah Palin will lose this election for the GOP.  Untested, naive, with no experience in the tough mettle of a national race the media will eat her alive.  Then watch and see what Joe Biden does in the VP debate.  A gentleman through and through he may finally opt to allow her to hang herself.

Running for national office is a bit unlike running for Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  The press attention and focus is slightly more intense.  Every word she utters will now be national news and she came off yesterday as a lightweight.  A few major gaffes and the nation will question John McCain’s judgment for the last time.  Last time because he’ll be toast.

How long until Sarah Palin gets the deer in the headlights look and panics?  A week?

Pittsburgh Democrats to Welcome McCain Tomorrow

Democrats in Pittsburgh plan on welcoming John McCain to the Steel City with a birthday cake, 72 candles, and a fire extinguisher.  The fire extinguisher is deemed necessary due to the high fire danger from so many candles.

PITTSBURGH: Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner and Allegheny

County Councilman Jim Burn will be wishing John McCain a “happy

birthday” on Saturday, August 30th a 10 a.m. at Market Square in

Pittsburgh to highlight another year of ômore of the sameö.

Democratic leaders will present a cake and talk about how McCain will be

offering more of the failed Bush policies on the economy, energy, job

creation, social security and health care.

A traveling billboard will also be shown to demonstrate how McCain and

running mate Gov. Sarah Palin will continue embracing the ineffective

policies of the past eight years.

  WHAT: Wagner and Burn to wish John McCain “happy birthday”

  WHERE: Market Square, Pittsburgh

  WHEN: Saturday, August 30, 10 a.m.



 

Palin: “Someone Explain What the VP Does”

john McCain’s VP choice was on CNBC addressing questions about the scandal surrounding her office and the Vice Presidency.  She looks like a little girl sitting in a huge chair, not a good visual for Palin, and, again, does not appear to have the stature and gravitas for a national executive position.

To answer Palin:  if you are VP to John McCain your job, every morning, will be to inquire as to whether the President made it through the night.  Your second obligation will be to follow him everywhere with an umbrella over his head to protect him from further cases of melanoma.

Sestak: GAO Report Flawed

From Congressman Joe Sestak:

Media, PA – Congressman Rob Andrews (NJ- 01) and Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) today held a joint press conference announcing the release of the report on the study conducted by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed redesign of the airspace covering the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia region.

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At the request of Congressmen Andrews and Sestak, the GAO completed the investigation into the cost, operational efficiency, and environmental impacts of the FAA’s plan because of community concerns that noise mitigation, air emissions, and other environmental impacts may not have been adequately addressed.

“Representative Sestak and I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation into the cost and noise and environmental impact of the airspace redesign on South Jersey and Pennsylvania because we did not think the FAA had provided accurate answers on its own,” said Representative Andrews. “I have been extremely concerned that this air space redesign is a colossal mistake. The GAO study confirms for me that the process was flawed.  The GAO identified a stunning set of omissions.  Even if the law does not require cost-benefit analysis and implementation plans, common sense certainly does.  These conclusions must force the FAA to look at other options.”  

“I have worked aggressively with Congressman Andrews and other leaders in Congress, as well as at the state and local level, to address the concerns my constituents have over the noise and environmental impact of this redesign and the lack of certainty around costs and benefits,” said Congressman Sestak.  “I’ve said all along that the FAA’s actions were based on flawed models and assumptions. This study conducted by GAO confirmed that the FAA had not conducted a true cost-benefit analysis.  And, in addition, the GAO found that the FAA had no detailed implementation plan and had reached its conclusions without an assessment of the risk and uncertainty around its assumptions.”

Both Congressman Sestak and Congressman Andrews thanked the GAO for their efforts in completing the investigation. While the report found that the FAA complied with legal requirements, the GAO described a number of limitations in the FAA methodology and made recommendations regarding Airspace Redesign Projects.  

o       “FAA did not analyze various economic impacts, such as implementation costs… A cost-benefit analysis would provide more information about the impacts of various alternatives.”

o       GAO also indentified that an uncertainty analysis “would provide more information about the level of uncertainty associated with the operational analysis [of alternatives].”

o       “FAA has not developed a detailed implementation plan for the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Airspace Redesign with a schedule…..  In addition, the final project configuration and costs are unknown since FAA has not determined the type of equipment and software that will be needed.”

Congressman Sestak said, “Both Congressman Andrews and I are appalled that the FAA would begin to implement a project of this magnitude and complexity without proper guidance that would come from a detailed understanding of the likely benefits of the project and the true costs that are necessary to realize those benefits.  But I can’t say that we are surprised.  Back in April 2007, in response to a question from Congressman Andrews, Marion Blakey, the FAA Administrator at the time, said that she did not know how much the project would cost – despite having worked on it for close to ten years.”

A detailed assessment of the FAA’s assumptions also shows that the benefits expected for Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) were marginal (compared with the other airports involved), and would not be realized until full implementation of an Integrated Control Complex (ICC).  However, as confirmed by the GAO study, there have been no cost estimates prepared, and no decisions made regarding the ICC.   So the FAA has implemented a plan for PHL which may provide only marginal benefits – but with no idea of the costs, and no plan to deliver the benefits.    

“Congressman Andrews and I will continue to fight to stop this flawed plan.  First, we will continue to work for legislation in the House and the Senate to withhold funding for implementation, until the proper cost-benefit analysis and detailed planning are completed.  Second, we will support efforts already underway in the Courts.  Presently, there are twelve lawsuits pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit asking for review of the FAA Record of Decision.  The petitioners include residents from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, a state government, various municipal governments, and various citizen groups.”  Congressman Sestak said, “I will continue to fight the FAA and its redesign proposal to protect the safety, health, and educational development of our citizens.  We must address this issue in a bi-partisan and comprehensive manner so that our transportation system can operate better than it has.”