BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News made television history by drawing more viewers than any of the big three broadcast networks on the opening night of major coverage of this convention. Brian Stelter, the editor of TVnewser.com, has been tracking the network and cable TV ratings, and he joins us now. Brian, welcome to OTM.
BRIAN STELTER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One network official who spoke on condition of anonymity in the newspapers called the Republican Convention a "made-for-Fox" event. [LAUGHTER] So how do you explain the success of Fox News this week? Simply that the converted were being gathered in front of the electric fireplace?
BRIAN STELTER: Well, that's what the networks will say. That's what the broadcasters have said. But then Fox News has responded by saying [LAUGHS] basically these are the networks taking their last breath.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How about the Democratic Convention?
BRIAN STELTER: For the Democratic Convention, it was nothing like that. We saw CNN beating Fox News --very uncommon -- and obviously that resulted in cries of liberal bias, but CNN is very quick to note that their audience most closely reflects the general population. They tend to be, audience-wise, about 10 percent more liberal or more Democratic than the general population, but then, in comparison, Fox News' viewers tend to be 33 percent more Republican than the average American.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm wondering -- how much of cable coverage of the convention actually covers the convention?
BRIAN STELTER: [LAUGHS] Very, very little. Fox is a great example of that. Bill O'Reilly comes on every night at 8 p.m., sitting in a sky booth above the convention, and then basically proceeds to ignore it and doesn't air any of the speeches during that hour. Back at the Democratic Convention, it turned out the cable channels were airing about an hour of speeches every night, and keep in mind, they were on the air wall to wall, from 7 or 8 p.m. each night, and they decided only to carry about a third or fourth of that actual convention coverage. The rest was pontificating, punditry, sitting outside and, and talking about what it all means.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have alternative media outlets like the new digital TV and live internet feeds had an effect on the overall rating?
BRIAN STELTER: Well, you know, ABC News Now is a, a new venture by ABC. It started at the Democratic Convention. It's going through election day, and they are broadcasting on cell phones, on digital TV, on the internet, and it's seen some success. It's got some early adopters. But it has a, a long ways to go to really compare to the other cable news networks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was a lot of handwringing in 2000 about the diminished coverage of the convention, and yet in 2004, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has complained that the broadcast networks, with of course the exception of PBS, are simply not fulfilling their civic duty by reducing the coverage of the conventions.
BRIAN STELTER: You do still have a sizable minority of Americans who do not subscribe to cable or satellite or broadband internet or digital TV or any of those sorts of mediums--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're talking about 17 percent of the public, roughly.
BRIAN STELTER: -- right, but then again, the broadcast executives wake up every day after the conventions -- they see the ratings -- they see less than 10 million people are watching this hour of convention coverage across all the networks, and they're saying this isn't commercially viable.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So if you take the complaint and compare it to the numbers, has the viewership for the convention dropped substantially since 2000?
BRIAN STELTER: It hasn't, but what we're seeing is the viewers are drifting from the networks over to cable. They are tuning in to CNN and especially Fox News.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You think it's possible that in 2008 the networks'll just walk away?
BRIAN STELTER: Possibly PBS will be the only channel in broadcast covering the conventions. We saw the FCC commissioner come out and say that this was ridiculous. It was unacceptable for the networks not to be airing more coverage. I think the direction we're going is certainly away from broadcast, and the information sources are only going to increase.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Brian, thank you very much.
BRIAN STELTER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brian Stelter is the editor of TVnewser.com.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now, an update. Last month, we told you about a muckraking editor in China who shook up the party establishment and helped reform some bad laws with a series in the Southern Metropolis Daily. It all went sour last spring, when the paper's editor and two colleagues were arrested. When we talked with Washington Post China editor Philip Pan in August, the situation was dire. But this week, the New York Times reported that Editor Cheng Yizhong has been released. According to the Times, he was freed on the condition that he doesn't give interviews. It's unclear whether his two colleagues have also been released. And how about a few of your letters? Richard Essex of Lockport, Illinois said he was listening to the show and, quote, "If my ears didn't deceive me, it reported that the Time Magazine reporter who was being held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal his source for the Valerie Plame leak identified Dick Cheney's chief of staff as one of the sources for the information. Since that short story, I have not seen or heard one word. Call me silly, but I find the fact that the vice president's most senior staff member committed such a vicious and criminal act of political retribution at least as newsworthy as the Republican Convention." On our interview with the producer of an ABC series that brings cameras into the jury room, Matthew Miller of Seattle, Washington said, "The producer of the televised jury show suggested that in several focus group interviews with televised jurors, they believed they were not influenced by the cameras. But this is completely self-reported data. In reality, there is no way to determine whether jurors are, in fact, influenced by television cameras. But I have to ask -- how could one not be? We live in a culture of 15 minute fame, and these people know that millions of people will likely see this footage. This adds up to a pretty strong influential cocktail, in my book." And we'll conclude with a couple of comments on Pledge This, the star-studded parody of public radio we ran last week. The reaction ranged from Seth Gittleman of Washington, DC who called it "Great radio comedy. Kudos to all involved," to Piotr Michalowski, who observed, "The progressive trivialization of NPR is a national tragedy." Keep those comments coming to email@example.com, and don't forget to tell us where you live and how to pronounce your name. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the changing face of John "Straight Talk" McCain, and how to make a protest pop. This is On the Media, from NPR.