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Democratic National Convention: Media 'Desperate for An Unscripted Moment'

Aired August 17, 2000 - 1:33 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Democratic National Convention is entering its final hours. Nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates will fill the floor of this Staples Center tonight. Al Gore's nomination acceptance speech, of course, is the scheduled crescendo to these three days of speakers singing Al Gore's praises. Gore made a brief appearance on stage last night with one of those speakers, his daughter Karenna. CNN will have live coverage, of course, of Gore's nomination acceptance address, 10:00 P.M. Eastern tonight, 7:00 Pacific.

The delegates here at the convention are outnumbered by about 3-1 those of us in the media. So, how are we doing?

We're going to check in with media critic Howard Kurtz who's a media reporter for the "Washington Post" and also the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

"New York Times" said today it's a low-drama convention and the high point, apparently, according to some, was Al Gore's appearance at this convention last night. Has it been that low-drama as far as you're concerned?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES": We are so desperate for an unscripted moment, Lou, that just Gore coming out and hugging his daughter was enough to stop the presses, except in television terms. Yes, there haven't been a lot of surprises here. Joe Lieberman has gotten some nice coverage, as he's gotten ever since he was named. But you do have an awful lot of journalists in search of a story.

WATERS: Is media being careful to balance its coverage between what happened in Philadelphia and what's now happening here? The Republicans were worried -- well, in fact, they were upset that the first night of the Democratic convention was given more time than the first night of the Republican convention.

KURTZ: And there was a very simple reason for that: President Clinton hijacked an extra half hour of air time by just keeping on talking and basically daring the broadcast networks to break away, which they did not.

But except for that one talkathon, basically, the amount of time, particularly in the broadcast networks, which have devoted relatively little attention -- it's a apparently a ratings loser, this convention -- has been about the same as it has been in Philadelphia.

WATERS: We -- I even heard Leon Panetta on one of the channels last night saying, this should be a two-day convention, this is way too long.

KURTZ: Well, 1996, I heard a lot of people say that. And I heard television news executives say that they were only going to come back for two days.

WATERS: Every time.

KURTZ: But I think the problem is that the parties want to put on a four-day show and party for their delegates and their core supporters. And the truth is, the journalists, while whining about how scripted it is, how terrible it is, there isn't much news, they kind of enjoy going to the parties, particularly here in L.A. where you get to rub shoulders with A-list celebrities.

WATERS: So you think anything will change? Will there be any modifications? I mean, if you look at the 1948 convention when television was introduced for the very first time, the evolution of the political convention has come to this point, where several networks are debating whether or not it's even worth showing up.

KURTZ: Well, either they're going to turn it into some kind of reality TV series like "Survivor," where various candidates get voted off the island -- I think the press might get voted off the island first -- or it may well shrink to two or three days, because there simply isn't enough to occupy everyone here given that all the business is decided in advance.

WATERS: What about the protests outside the arena? I was watching local news yesterday and they were trained wall-to-wall on the confrontations that were going on and the possible explosive consequences of police tactics and demonstration desires. Is that the way to go about covering demonstrations at a political convention?

KURTZ: Well, it's a big L.A. story, obviously, but it's not a big national story. And I think part of the reason for that is perhaps there's been almost a deliberate decision to play down the protesters. It's also not clear when read stories or interviews just what the protesters are about. There are a lot of different people with different kinds of grievances, so no one theme emergences as in, obviously, the anti-war protests in Chicago in 1968. So unless we have some bloody heads, which I hope that we do not, I don't think that it's going to be more than a side-bar story for the national media.

WATERS: Now, Al Gore. Let's talk a little bit of politics. Al Gore, I've heard all day, yesterday and so far today, that this is the most important speech...

KURTZ: It's make-or-break.

WATERS: Make-or-break. This is the one. Al Gore apparently has a problem having the television camera fall in love with him, and television is so important in bringing a candidate closer to the public. What is -- what are the expectations for tonight?

KURTZ: Well, you know, the expectations are really sky high because we've had not just these days, but weeks of commentary, punditry and other informed prognostications saying that this is Gore's moment. And the truth is, though, I think we in the media tend to overdramatize these things. Once speech is not going to win this election. Michael Dukakis gave a good speech in '88 and probably got about two days of good publicity.

The fact is, this is one of the few times between now and November when Gore will have the national stage to himself. And what he needs to do, as you have heard endlessly, is not only to give a good speech and make some good points and contrast himself with the Republican nominee, but to sort of connect with the American people. That seems to be Gore's great difficulty. He also has trouble connecting with the press, which I think helps further the image of kind of a wooden candidate. I'm sure Gore knows this. I'm sure he's going to attempt to put on an Academy Award performance.

WATERS: Be a fascinating evening, and it will be his most important speech until his next most important speech. Howard Kurtz, thanks so much.

KURTZ: Thank you.

WATERS: We'll be looking for you again.



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