Isaac and the infomercial

    Hurricane Isaac, which is on track for southern Florida, is threatening to disrupt, delay, or even cancel the Republican National Convention. I have three reactions:1. Which geniuses in the GOP thought it would be a great idea to site a convention in southern Florida during hurricane season?2. Since the GOP sees itself as the more godly party, would it care to explain why God seems so determined to wreak havoc early next week?3. Would it really be such a big deal if the GOP convention got wiped out?I’m serious about #3. And I feel the same way about the Democratic convention one week later. These events haven’t generated any real news since maybe 1976 (when there was intrigue about who would run with President Ford), or maybe 1968 (when blood flowed in the streets of Chicago), or maybe 1956 (when Adlai Stevenson allowed Democratic delegates to choose his veep candidate). The last multi-ballot convention occurred in 1952, which is so long ago that Philadelphia still had two big-league baseball teams. If you want some convention drama, you’re better off renting a movie called “The Best Man,” written by the late Gore Vidal, who pitted Henry Fonda against Cliff Robertson in a pitched battle down to the wire for the presidential nomination. It came out in 1964. For decades, conventions have been little more than protracted infomercials. They’re staged for TV, choreographed down to the smallest detail, with a fraction of the spontaneity seen each winter at the Golden Globes. I’ve been to eight conventions (blessedly, not this year), and I’ll share a little secret about the accredited press corps: Much of the time, we’re toting our bags and computers across acres of hot parking lots, only to wait in long snaking security lines; and much of the time, we’re in press tents watching the same TV show that Joe Citizen is watching at home.And most of that TV show is sheer propaganda. Granted, propaganda has some value – it’s worth paying attention to how the candidates and their parties present themselves to the public – but we’ve been hearing the same messages all year, via Twitter and YouTube and campaign ads and Super PAC ads and surrogate attacks and even the occasional press conference.The free TV networks know all this, which is why they’re planning to broadcast only one hour of live coverage per night…actually, it’s less than that. The networks won’t be broadcasting at all next Monday night, on day one of the GOP confab (if Isaac permits). Ann Romney is slated to speak that night, but she’ll be trumped on CBS by a re-run of Hawaii Five-O. Democrats face a similar dilemma on Wednesday, Sept. 5, on the middle night of their convention; ABC and CBS will be there, but NBC will be off broadcasting football.The major networks’ decision is not without irony. They first showed up with their cameras in 1948 and 1952; as a result, convention planners quickly realized that the old rough-and-tumble spontaneity was ill-suited for American living rooms. With each passing election cycle, conventions became more artificial – staged strictly for the cameras. Delegates don’t make news anymore; they’re just props, like audiences in a TV studio.Yet now the networks complain that the conventions are boring, that there’s no news. They triggered the trends that they now condemn.Maybe you still like the conventions; certainly, you’re not alone. Jonathan Bernstein, a Washington Post blogger, defends them: “There’s the platform, the ticket, the other candidates the parties want people to know about…aren’t all of those things news? Sure, you could tell quite a lot of those stories without the conventions, but so what? It’s a good excuse.”Oh, what the heck, he’s probably right. But I’m intrigued by what CBS network president James Aubrey said back in 1964: “If I had my way, we’d just have some guy come on at 11 p.m. and say, ‘The following six men made horses’ asses of themselves at the Republican convention,’ and then he’d give the six names, and that would be it.”Or maybe Isaac will get the last word.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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