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How the Republican convention played in prime time

A look at the 2016 Republican National Convention through a media lens


 
Actor Scott Baio addresses the delegates during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Actor Scott Baio addresses the delegates. (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

It’s a far different experience watching an hour of coverage on the ABC, CBS or NBC broadcast networks or the almost unlimited amount of time on the cable networks or PBS.

Melania Trump’s speech about her husband was the centerpiece of the 10 p.m. hour when the broadcasters were on the air, and it consumed much of their attention. Donald Trump made a brief appearance to introduce her, striding onstage to the tune of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” ABC teased his appearance as if it was a reality show.

Pundits initially gave Melania Trump high marks. “She proved to skeptics she could be an asset in this campaign,” said CBS’ Charlie Rose. She accomplished what she set out to do, said ABC’s David Muir. (Soon after the initial analysis, came news that Trump’s speech echoed Michelle Trump’s from 2008.)

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was speaking as the broadcasters began their coverage, and they treated his appearance almost as an inconvenience. The networks’ own people needed airtime, and there were other things to talk about: NBC showed tape of Matt Lauer boarding Trump’s plane to interview the prospective first couple.

Meanwhile, the cable networks thoroughly covered Giuliani, as he delivered a ringing attack on President Barack Obama and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

REGRETS: MSNBC’s Chris Hayes took to Twitter to second-guess himself for not being more forceful questioning Iowa Rep. Steve King’s comment, in a panel discussion, questioning whether any other “sub-group” contributed more to civilization than whites. Hayes said he found the notion of debating who contributed more to civilization odious, “but I hear people who think I made the wrong call in the moment. Maybe I did.”

CHYRON TIME: Whoever wrote the chyrons — those printed words that run on the bottom of the screen — at CNN had fun when reality star Antonio Sabato Jr. spoke. The printed messages informed viewers that Sabato had a reality show “in which women competed to be his girlfriend.” Another mentioned that Sabato’s Calvin Klein billboard hung across from the Trump Tower in the 1990s. “Soap star: I’m concerned about our country’s future,” read another.

Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith, speaks during the opening day. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

PUSH BACK: Patricia Smith, whose son died in the Benghazi, Libya, attack, said she blamed Clinton, the former secretary of state, for his death and ended an emotional speech by suggesting Clinton should be in jail. Afterward, CNN and MSNBC pushed back. CNN’s Jake Tapper quoted Clinton when she had earlier contested some of Smith’s assertions. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said that “It’s wrong to have somebody get up there and tell a lie about Hillary Clinton.”

FLOOR FIGHT: The fight by anti-Trump delegates to force a prolonged debate over convention rules was a throwback to a time when the midsummer party meetings were television shows with unpredictability, genuine conflict and old-fashioned displays of political muscle.

On Fox News, the commotion interrupted a discussion between anchor Stuart Varney and media watchdog Brent Bozell, who agreed the media would portray the convention as a series of confrontations that would reflect ill on Trump. Varney probably didn’t expect trouble to erupt so soon on his own network.

Alerted something was up on the convention floor, Varney threw to reporter James Rosen. “Stuart, it’s remarkable,” Rosen said. “It’s the type of scene you just don’t see in modern political conventions … Right now, the floor of the Republican National Convention is in a state approaching bedlam.” Fox analyst Julie Roginsky said that after years of watching stage-managed conventions, it seemed surreal.

Varney found a bright side. “It’s given a life that we have not seen at a convention in many, many years,” he said. “It’s also entertaining. People will watch this.”

MSNBC interviewed a delegate who complained of being intimidated by “brown shirts.” CNN’s Dana Bash offered swift, solid reporting on how the Trump forces quelled the uprising with a show of force. “It has actually almost been physical arm-twisting,” she said.

The best thing for the Trump campaign was that this happened in the afternoon _ away from the eyes of prime-time viewers. The event seemed distant when discussed later at night.

QUOTE: “Would Joanie still love Chachi after tonight?” — CNN’s Bash, interviewing actor Scott Baio after his convention speech.

WEEKEND UPDATE: One of many signs that the conventions are as important to late-night comics as political reporters this year came with NBC’s announcement Monday that “Weekend Update” anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che of “Saturday Night Live” are interrupting their summer vacations. They’ll host special convention editions of “Weekend Update” on MSNBC on Wednesday this week and next, and will be special correspondents for the “Today” show.

 


 

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