On the Edge

Article excerpt

The circular stage designed to bring the President as close as possible to delegates has been dismantled and put into boxes. The brass players have packed up. The balloons have been trampled and so has the truth.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Republican National Convention from Madison Square Garden shuts down, and before the last GOP strategist can stumble into bed, polls indicate a new, 11 per cent lead for George W. Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry in the race for the most powerful office on earth.

It was a stunning comeback for the man who, just days before, was cowering under growing contempt for having blown response to the attacks of September 11, for misleading the nation into a unnecessary invasion of Iraq, for bludgeoning the American economy into unprecedented deficits; the man who was running neck-and-neck with his opponent.

What hath wrought this miracle?

Major US networks provided significantly reduced coverage of both Democratic and Republican conventions this year, moving to just three hours for four nights in both cases. This was because of carefully tracked dwindling news value and flagging public interest in the events. Dave Westin, president of ABC news, lamented the decision. "As much as we'd like to coerce people into watching what's good for them, we simply don't have that power."

Watching what's good for them? Mr. Westin has a real future with The Comedy Network.

Reduced coverage is not enough. It's time to pull the plug completely on the old-fashioned televised political convention.

The Democratic and Republican conventions in the 2004 US campaigns were both, just like the recent Liberal and Conservative leadership conventions in Canada, giant messagefests. Each of them left behind a memory hole big enough to sink a nation.

In mainstream broadcast coverage, one or two standard scenarios followed every performance. In the first scenario, partisan analysts lined up to repeat and applaud (or repeat and decry; repeat, alas, is the operative word) said messages. They were politely thanked but not challenged by attendant anchor people, leaving the impression both sides were correct in their facts and integrity, something not usually possible.

In the second scenario, allegedly independent commentators came together to debate not the substance of the message, but the number of political points scored in delivering it: Yes, yes, the President was quite right to emphasize that America is at war, and he is the man to save us. …