From San Diego
There were two Republican conventions in San Diego. One was the convention covered by the broadcast networks and big print media. The other was the one carried by C-SPAN and the Family Channel, which televised the entire proceedings without commentary.
At a private party given by Dan and Marilyn Quayle at the Del Coronado Hotel Monday night, ABC's Cokie Roberts spoke of the decline in network ratings. She concluded that viewership is down from previous years because of lack of interest in the conventions. Reviewing the content of most of the reporting, as chronicled by the Media Research Center, suggests another reason: Fewer people are watching because of the one-dimensional and highly partisan coverage presented by the big media.
Each network and newspaper seemed to be operating from a political stylebook written by the Democratic National Committee. Words such as "extreme" or "extremist," "hard-line," "intolerant," "hard right," "extreme right," "rigid, and "hate" regularly modified everything Republican. Moderates were portrayed by the media as the saviors of their party, if the "extremists" would only listen to them.
On CNN, Bill Schneider charged that Republicans "are supposed to be haters," and that House Speaker Newt Gingrich "comes across as mean." His colleague Judy Woodruff said at least Jack Kemp does not like the idea of "yanking money away from welfare mothers with small children."
All of the networks suggested that "intolerant people" barred Gov. Pete Wilson of California and Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts from speaking because of their pro-abortion positions and compared the decision to the 1992 Democratic Convention when then-Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania was not allowed to speak because of his pro-life position. But the networks virtually ignored that controversy and bring it up now only to make Republicans look "intolerant."
Cokie Roberts called Republicans "dour and somewhat mean. . . ." The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt said the GOP platform is "mean-spirited." CNN's Bill Schneider praised Mr. Kemp, but only as a contrast to "most conservatives," whom he described as "haters."
On substantive issues, the big media were also one-sided. They indicated divisions in the Democratic Party over abortion are not as important as the Republican ones. In the words of ABC's Jackie Judd: "The issue of abortion has not splintered the Democratic Party because those who couldn't live with the party's position bolted years ago. . . . So given their reluctance to publicly fight with the party's mainstream, abortion opponents will probably be seen, but not heard at their party's convention this summer." That's because the networks won't talk to them as they do pro-choice Republicans who oppose what has become the GOP's "intolerant" mainstream.
The convention's opening night was particularly instructive when considering Cokie Roberts's lament on the ratings fall-off. Star Parker, a beautiful African-American woman, told her personal story of moving from welfare to starting her own business. It was an inspirational speech, but one that put the lie to the image of intolerance the big networks wanted to portray, so they didn't cover it. Former President Gerald Ford was ignored by the big three, and when George Bush started to speak, CBS went to a commercial, while ABC's Peter Jennings chatted up a floor reporter.
Does this really make a difference? Yes, because people form many of their opinions from the images they see on television. When a substantial amount of the reporting is mean-spirited and full of disgust for Republicans, no wonder the audience turns in droves to C-SPAN and the Family Channel for unadulterated coverage.
The big media have become the modern version of Radio Moscow and Pravda, incapable of fair reporting on Republican conservatives. C-SPAN and the Family Channel are the equivalent of the Voice of America. This is why the big media are losing viewers and subscribers. It's not that they don't get it. They don't want to get it, and that's too bad because the audience now has somewhere else to go.
© 1996, Los Angeles Times Syndicate