BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. Bob Garfield is away this week, so he missed the Republican National Convention -- a big tent open to all who love America. But, in a twist on a familiar campaign slogan, there actually were two conventions under way in New York's Madison Square Garden -- a quiet one, with a platform uncompromising enough to assuage the Christian right, and a noisy one, where perceived moderates like John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger offered clarion calls to the undecided. As far as the TV pundits were concerned, there were several great speeches and a couple of misfires before the president took the floor. One, discharged by Democrat Zell Miller, accused John Kerry of such dangerous negligence it sizzled and smoked.
ZELL MILLER: Today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator, and nothing makes this Marine madder [CHEERS] than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the immediate aftermath, the cable news anchors responded with a rare display of spine. MSNBC's Chris Matthews had already taken some flak from Republicans for asking hard questions, and he persistently challenged Miller's distortion of Kerry's voting record.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Didn't you, many times, vote against whole packages of spending when you would have gladly gone for a smaller package?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The interview grew so heated, it nearly ended with a call for pistols at dawn.
ZELL MILLER: Get out of my face! If you're going to ask me a question, [LAUGHTER] step back and let me answer it. I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As for CNN, perhaps it felt safe challenging Miller, who has neither McCain's reputation for integrity nor Giuliani's halo of heroism. Plus, Miller is a Democrat who acts Republican. Attacking him is, in a sense, bi-partisan, so even though he wasn't the only one serving up distortion, he stood in for the rest. For those of you who missed it, amidst the hoopla, here -- sounding like journalists --are Jeff Greenfield--
JEFF GREENFIELD: On at least four occasions, President Bush has referred to the presence of American forces in Iraq as an occupation. And the question is: are you not selectively choosing words to describe the same situation that the president of the United States has described?
ZELL MILLER: I don't know of the president using those words, but I know Senator Kenny-- Kennedy and Senator Kerry have used them on several occasions.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Yeah. So has President Bush!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Wolf Blitzer--
WOLF BLITZER: You know that when the vice president was the secretary of defense, he proposed cutting back on the B-2 bomber, the F-14 Tomcat as well. I covered him at the Pentagon during those years when he was raising serious concerns about those two weapons systems.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And even Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you, you simply reject the idea that, that Vice President Cheney also voted against some of these systems?
ZELL MILLER: I don't think Cheney voted against....
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News featured Bill Crystal of The Weekly Standard who said Miller's speech was, quote, "fantastic -- an old-fashioned stemwinder." Rich Lowry of The National Review thought it had a lot of truth, though Zell may have played it too angry. Fox's liberal news analyst, Susan Estrich, did say he was embarrassing and wrong on the facts, but she didn't elaborate so -- no facts. However, Fox does deserve credit for bringing a fresh, young perspective on Miller's speech.
CHILD: I liked that he said that all the things that Kerry did not vote for, and, even though he's a Democrat himself--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nine year old pundit Noah McCullough.
NOAH McCULLOUGH: --he said that his party leaders were not listening to America's needs....
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Thursday, the president took the floor.
GEORGE W. BUSH: My opponent's policies are dramatically different from ours. Senator Kerry opposed Medicare reform and health savings accounts.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: His speech was followed swiftly by a critique from the Associated Press. It led with a brief graph of highlights, followed by this: (quote) "Bush's acceptance speech on Thursday night brought the nation a collection of facts that only told part of the story." Then the AP checked off the major inaccuracies and contradictions -- not just in the president's remarks, but in Vice President Cheney's, New York Governor George Pataki's and Millers, as well. On Friday, the nation's top newspapers, especially the New York Times, which earlier had left the fact-checking to other papers, dissected the speech like a cadaver on a slab. I don't know where this new knife-wielding impulse comes from -- maybe testosterone or guilt -- maybe it was all the free massages the media got at the convention. I only know -- I like it.