BOB GARFIELD: Since we had appointed Mike our on-site media critic, we decided to ask a mere toiler in the convention orchard, Brian Lehrer, host of WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show and former host of On the Media, how he negotiated the pitfalls of reporting from the convention floor. Brian, welcome back to the show.
BRIAN LEHRER: Hey, Bob. It's always great to be on OTM.
BOB GARFIELD: So what's the experience there for one of 15,000 representatives of the media?
BRIAN LEHRER: I feel like such an insignificant flea. If I ever thought that there was something unique and individual about what I did, now I know better.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] That's ridiculous, Brian. You're not an insignificant flea. You're-- [LAUGHTER] you're a very significant flea.
BRIAN LEHRER: Well the approach that I tried to take is to just pluck delegates, big name politicians, journalists from the floor, from the hallways, bring them over to my little table with the microphones, and have discussions about the issues. We can talk about health care; we can talk about the items in the platform on Iraq. We can talk about what kind of foreign policy he would have. We can talk about what's right or wrong about education Bush-style -- any of those things.
BOB GARFIELD: Ah, the substance angle. Ha. How counter-intuitive.
BRIAN LEHRER: Well, this is one of the great opportunities that much of the local media from around the country that is here has this week, and I think a lot of local media have been seizing on this better than the major networks who have access to, you know, national politicians all the time. We've had, as a New York radio station, Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia, who would be tough for us to get normally. Senator Saxby Chambliss from Georgia. As a Georgia Republican, he'd probably be reluctant to come on New York public radio, so for politics junkies on our crew, including myself, and for many in our listening audience, it's been a treat, for that reason.
BOB GARFIELD: You know the story about the, the blind men and the elephant -- one feels the trunk, one feels the tail, one feels the ears, and they have a very different view of the elephant. The way media coverage is so sliced and diced and presented according to the sensibilities of individual channels, like Fox versus C-Span, just for example, do you think your listeners are witnessing a very different convention than those who are watching Fox News Channel or the hour that's devoted to the convention by the three major networks?
BRIAN LEHRER: No doubt, and that's the nature of our media today, isn't it? I've been listening to some of the right wing talk radio channels here in Boston -- the local ones -- and to hear them, you would think this convention was primarily about Teresa Heinz Kerry saying "Shove it" and Barack Obama "Good black man," Al Sharpton, "Bad black man."
BOB GARFIELD: Criticism of this convention, and I guess all other modern political conventions, is that they are in effect, four day long commercials for whatever party happens to be hosting it. Do you find yourself becoming petulant or particularly confrontational with Democrats so as not to appear to be like a de facto PR man for the Democratic Party?
BRIAN LEHRER: You know, it's a good question, because on the one hand, you know it's a Democratic convention, and they're here to get the message out, and you want to give them a reasonable opportunity to get their message out. But at the same time, the journalistic instincts kick in, and you know, you want to counter every message that they put out there with -- but wait, the other side would say --which isn't always the most interesting conversation to have. So it's a delicate line to walk.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you one other thing -- as you look around the convention floor, something like 2,000 of the 5,000 actual delegates are minorities. And, as you look around the assembled press, overwhelmingly white. Is there a disconnect there?
BRIAN LEHRER: The difference is really striking. There's no way to nuance it. There's no way to finesse it, and we shouldn't. I think there's a little case of news media, heal thyself here, when look at the fact that at least the Democratic Party, and it'll be interesting to see the diversity or lack thereof -- we'll find out -- at the Republican convention. It is so different from what we're seeing in media land here, that I would hope news executives would be kind of embarrassed about it, to tell you the truth, and re-double their efforts to make their staffs diverse.
BOB GARFIELD: Brian, it's a pleasure, as always.
BRIAN LEHRER: Thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD: Brian Lehrer is the host of the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC and former host of this very program. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, Bob Edwards returns to radio, for a price. And if you still can't get enough campaign excitement, have we got a show for you.