BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR’s On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone with a quick recap of the coverage of the Democratic National Convention. I know, last week I suggested that maybe too many reporters were going to be covering this thing, and maybe too many did.
But this was an historic event and it was the job of the news media, especially cable news, to remind us of that – frequently – to tell us what the speakers should say and how we should feel about it. And when there was nothing else to talk about, there was always the Clintons. [CLIPS]: MALE CORRESPONDENT: The Clinton anger/disappointment saga, is that going to dominate today in these next three days?
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The Washington Post said Obama personally dislikes Clinton. Do you think that’s real and they just need to do this - [OVERTALK] MALE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah well, the Clintons got to get over it, the Clinton supporters have to get over it. We can't have three nights of the Clintons and one night of Barack Obama. [END CLIPS] BROOKE GLADSTONE: That narrative petered out when the Clintons finally spoke, but when the talkers ran out of topics they could always talk about themselves. For instance, at Fox News, “America’s election headquarters,” Bill O’Reilly spent a chunk of prime convention time venting about a newspaper that insulted him.
He also spoke with a Fox reporter who had a very scary encounter with convention demonstrators. [CLIP: BILL O'REILLY: So these are anarchists, they hate America. Did you ever feel in any danger out there with them? MALE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I did feel a little bit in danger. I felt that they were – [VOICE TRAILS OFF] [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, over at MSNBC, the “place for politics,” the anchors didn't so much talk about themselves as squabble amongst themselves. Chris Matthews griped at Keith Olbermann when he made a yackity-yack hand gesture directed at Matthews. [CLIP] CHRIS MATTHEWS: You make that sound, Keith - I can do the same to you, okay? That’s what I thought. Alright? [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Olbermann sneered at Joe Scarborough, the token conservative anchor, and Scarborough – well, it’s hard to describe what he did to David Schuster. [CLIP]: JOE SCARBOROUGH: Independent? Why, I bet everybody at MSNBC has Independent on their voting cards. Oh, we're down the middle now. [OVERTALK/SEVERAL AT ONCE] Go ahead, David. [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: The “best political team on television” kept it together. It was bland and civil and centrist, and won the ratings war.
At the two other channels, the coverage was rather more – political. Fox anchors leaned predictably to the right, though they did have on a few liberals, even Dennis Kucinich, to spice up the proceedings. But the only conservatives on the liberal MSNBC were on the payroll, Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. At least they're the only ones I saw.
But there was a lot I didn't see. For instance, when I was watching Fox, I didn't see Al Gore’s speech or Stevie Wonder’s performance, though I did see Michael McDonald’s. [CLIP/MICHAEL McDONALD SINGING AMERICA] [END CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] As I channel-surfed the three cable news channels, I was not given a chance to see John Kerry’s speech or Kucinich’s or Evan Bayh’s. Instead, I was treated to obsessive analysis of the Clinton dissention and an endless parade of prescriptions for the key speakers. Here’s Carl Bernstein on CNN, prescribing for Obama. [CLIP]: CARL BERNSTEIN: He has somewhat of a problem in terms of being regarded as formidable. That’s the task, if there’s any that he’s going to be measured by tonight, I think - [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: MSNBC, the “place for politics,” was also the place for political spoilers. First, Olbermann blew the big surprise that Obama was going to appear after Joe Biden’s speech, and then the next day, Olbermann read part of Obama’s speech to an increasingly irritated crowd. [CLIP]: KEITH OLBERMANN: Another excerpt from the Obama speech to come. [CROWD NOISE] I say to the American people, the Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land, enough. It is a strong and specific speech, Chris. So without spoiling any more of that speech, I think we get a tone here – [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: After Obama’s speech, true to form, the pundits told us how to feel about it. This week, the cable news talkers told us that Obama had to reveal himself, but so did the news channels. They all saw this week as promotion for themselves, as much as Obama, and they tried to tell us how to feel about them.
But I don't feel that good, frankly, because they got in the way of the story, because they made themselves the story. Because if this truly was the historic event they kept telling us it was, then they all talked way too much. [CLIPS] MICHAEL McDONALD: [SINGING] From sea to shining sea. [CROWD CHEERS]