GAVEL-TO-GAVEL GAB

I’ve been wall to wall with the GOP and Democratic conventions, and here is how the media shake out.

Throughout modern history, we’ve heard from movie critics, theater critics, music critics, dance critics, media critics, literary critics, architecture critics, culture critics, food critics and critics of critics. Have I omitted any? Oh, yes, inane and blustery (blush) TV critics.

Now it’s come down to this. TV anchors, reporters and commentators—mentally twiddling their thumbs as the two major parties execute their camera-ready stagecraft—have evolved into an arcane new species.

Speech critics.

Yes, thumbs up/thumbs down political journalists who generate blurbs as if writing for movie ads: glorious, superb, breathtaking, beautifully expressed, loved it. And slams, too, of course, with pundits and other Great Minds informing you if the podium speeches you watched were good or bad, electrifying or dull, effective or ineffective. As if you had to be told.

Take Tuesday night’s Dem headliner Bill Clinton. I experienced his speech from the perspective of someone who would rather Hillary possess the nuclear codes than hair-trigger Trumpet. It’s not that I don’t favor eliminating ISIS, only that I’d prefer not eliminating the entire planet at the same time.

Bill Clinton 3

So, I found Clinton’s speech masterfully written and delivered—sweet and personal leading to a big-bang payoff—however much of it may have been embroidered or flat-out erroneous. C’mon, I want her to win. So if the goal was to soften his wife’s image and show her “other side,” he nailed it.

I thought.

Though most of the reviews were positive, the beginning that I liked (“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”), a few speech critics didn’t dig at all. Several felt dwelling on the Clintons’ courtship was “risky,” given his famous philandering.

Not that assessing these speeches as entertainment value has a place in news.

Much of media see all of this as a kind of show biz, and approach it that way. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews can be an enjoyable hoot, for example. But you wanted to slap a strait jacket on him the way he raved about the Trumpet propaganda video at last week’s GOP convention, going on and on about Jon Voight’s narration, and again pounding that theme late Tuesday night after Clinton’s speech.

His is not the only media pulse pounding like a Tom Tom these days.

Yet the GOP and Democratic nominating conventions are rarely more than tailored-for-TV-and-iPad infomercials, and their speakers as much gussied-up  hucksters as Matthew McConaughey in a Lincoln. All of it is self-serving propaganda.

Nothing is written in stone about media being responsible for giving presidential candidates “bounce” in the polls via free exposure at these partisan extravaganzas.

Nonetheless, these suckers are covered live and lavishly like the blockbuster news events they aren’t, when, with a few obvious exceptions, a 90-second daily TV summary and half column of newspaper or Internet space plus a few photos would suffice. For junkies, there’s always gavel-to-gavel no-frills coverage on C-SPAN.

One speech that hardly merited live coverage in its marathon entirety was Clinton’s Hillary toast. You couldn’t have detected news in it even with a Geiger counter. Nor much breaking news of any kind in both conventions.

Good people disagree about whether the present system of having state primaries and caucuses cumulatively pick major party presidential nominees is better or worse than the combustible oldies where choices for the top job were dictated by wheeling, dealing party leaders. What would the Bernie-or-busters say about that?

I’m no nostalgia-nik. But oh, for the good old days when these suckers were shows you could count on, a real rumble of action and insults, several days of suspenseful infighting over naming the party’s standard-bearer.

That hasn’t happened for years. Let’s see, what was that guy’s name, Grover Cleveland?

But seriously…it is true that no convention since 1952 has gone past the first ballot. Not for decades, in fact, has there been a truly definitive one whose top nominee was not taken for granted in advance. Whose undecided delegates truly made a difference. Whose TV interviews had relevance beyond filling time and justifying the expense of mounting this absurd level of coverage.

As for this month, my blurb: Enough already.

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Published by

Howard Rosenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning former television critic for The Los Angeles.

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