Conservatives are not in the habit of sitting down to the morning TV-news shows to get a boost, and they certainly wouldn’t have felt a boost this morning. President Bush’s speech was a second, maybe third or fourth, thought today. It might be understandable: A major hurricane is pressing on Florida, and a dramatic school-hostage crisis in Russia may be ending in gunfire.
But even after all that, the networks were more enthusiastic doing an autopsy on the Kobe Bryant case than discussing the Bush speech. On the Friday after Kerry’s speech, the Kerry-Edwards ticket scheduled a rally in the middle of morning-show time to gain maximum exposure. NBC’s Katie Couric interviewed the two candidates, and the show replayed the interview in its third hour.
When they did get around to the campaign today, the networks spent half the time with CBS’s Bob Schieffer and NBC’s Tim Russert explaining how passionately Democrats wanted John Kerry to get up in Ohio at midnight and howl at the moon that Bush and Cheney were a duo of draft dodgers. They didn’t seem to find it at all strange that the first instinct after bringing in Clintonites such as Joe Lockhart was to start swaggering about the other guy’s draft deferments.
Last night, while many pundits (including some on ABC, MSNBC, PBS, and Fox) praised the Bush speech, the network reception was still quite different from the reaction after the John Kerry speech in July. Some quickly pulled out their rapid-response Democratic talking points. On NBC, before he grew misty about his last convention, Tom Brokaw eagerly noted how “there was no mention of WMD and already the Democrats are out with a response sheet saying there was no mention of North Korea, no mention of Iran or Osama bin Laden.” Tim Russert couldn’t help elaborating: “The Democrats are also now pointing out, Tom, no mention of unemployment, no mention of out-sourcing.”
The sharpest double standard emerged on CBS. Just before Kerry came into the hall in July, CBS reporter Byron Pitts sounded like a breathless Kerry aide with gauzy spin about how Kerry would courageously march through the delegates (with Secret Service detail) and how before every important event Kerry will “make a sign of the cross, then kiss the St. Christopher’s medallion his mother gave him as a child.” Plus, Kerry always keeps with him his “Vietnam dog tags” as a reminder he’s “been down, but he always finds a way to get up.”
Last night, before Bush emerged, White House correspondent (and anchor wannabe) John Roberts grew snarky as he noted that Bush would reheat the warmed-over “compassionate conservative” phrase even “though some critics would probably say it’s a mantra that rings pretty hollow considering some of the policies that his government has pursued in the last three-and-a-half years.” After Kerry’s address, Pitts touted a sappy story about how Kerry’s mother urged him to have “integrity” on her deathbed. Last night, Roberts remarked after Bush’s speech that “He seems to have completely forgotten about Osama bin Laden.”
Isn’t it funny when reporters think they’re being profound by noting that a political candidate doesn’t mention his weaker points? Byron Pitts wasn’t about to come on after Kerry’s speech and say, “Dan, Kerry tonight did not mention his billionaire wife’s refusal to release her tax returns. He also left out any mention of gay marriage winning over the judges here in Boston.”
The MRC staff’s award for the oddest comment of the night went to Peter Jennings after the Bush speech. Explaining the removal from the convention hall of two protesters who heckled President Bush, Jennings was baffled: “What they could be charged with, other than political expression, I do not know.” Please remember that if ever someone breaks into ABC News and starts heckling Jennings in mid-newscast.
ZELL VS. TED
For anyone who believes that the networks apply a balanced standard to hardball convention speeches, I recommend a glance back at the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago. Bill Clinton had declared he would run an “ideas, not insults” campaign. Here’s what Ted Kennedy said about the GOP platform: “It is the radical wish-list of the education-cutting, environmental-trashing, Medicare-slashing, choice-denying, tolerance-repudiating, gay-bashing, Social Security-threatening, assault-rifle-coddling, government-closing, tax-loophole-granting….minimum-wage-opposing Republican majority that dominated the delegations in San Diego.”
On PBS, Tom Brokaw said: “Senator Edward M. Kennedy, still in full voice after all these years in the United States Senate. The proud champion of the liberal cause, addressing this convention hall once again as he does every four years.”
On CNN, Bernard Shaw asserted: “Sixteen years ago in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Sen. Edward Kennedy rallied the Democratic party. Tonight, he has done it again in Chicago.” Ken Bode added: “You need a partisan speech, one that puts it to the other party. You get it at any convention. Ted Kennedy does it as well as anybody could do it. Elder statesman of the party. Eloquent.”
–Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.