Covering the National Political Conventions

Or Not

Opinion by John McManus

Do you buy the networks' decision to limit coverage of the political conventions?

"People don’t care," say network news execs. "It’s scripted." "The drama’s gone." "Let PBS or CNN do it." "We’ll catch it during half-time on Monday night football." Pre-season football.

Well, pardon me.

Are these the same networks that federal law requires act in the public “interest, necessity and convenience?” Public. Not shareholder.

Are these the same networks that are about to collect $100 million from political advertising in the next three months?

Are these the same networks whose stations Congress recently awarded an extra channel of public airwaves, without auction, without a cent?

The fact is that many people do care about what the Republicans and Democrats are planning. The Republicans drew an audience of 16 million. No, not as many as watch E.R. So what?

Journalism’s job isn’t to attract the most eyeballs, but to excite interest in the important. When networks treated the quadrennial conventions with “Super Bowl” coverage, many watched because the networks were saying very clearly: “This is important.”

And what could be more important than the direction our national parties are setting for the next four years?

Some critics yawned at the Republican National Convention. But, what could be more newsworthy than the Republican Party claiming to be inclusive, to value every child, to save Medicare, to rescue Social Security?

If true, it represents a stunning political U-turn. If false, journalists should demolish the papier mache’ with facts and analysis. Journalists don’t have to be stenographers at an infomercial.

Political conventions are democracy’s High Holy Days. They are Holy Week. Sure, Yom Kippur and Easter are scripted. But they are important times of reflection and renewal. So are political conventions. And unlike the religious holy days, the network fast from more profitable fare only comes twice in four years. 

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