Every four years, presidential candidates and their parties have to approach their respective national conventions with revised playbooks – adapting and reacting to new situations, new problems and ever-changing constituencies. Broadcast and cable networks covering these quadrennial affairs, for their own reasons, must do likewise.
In 2008, as TV covered the first night of the Democratic National Convention from Denver Monday, here’s how the various networks providing coverage staked out their communal territory:
On broadcast TV, PBS was very thorough, covering all but the most minor of events, yet not very pleased by it: David Gergen complained, more than once, about how dull a TV show it was, even though he was part of it. CBS, NBC and ABC, on the other hand, didn’t show up until 10 p.m. ET, missing Ted Kennedy’s unscheduled, exciting speech (ABC replayed it at the start of its prime-time hour, the only broadcast network to do so in full).
And CBS, anxious to give Katie Couric and company more air time, shifted immediately over to the CBS News website and continued coverage. Or the Internet equivalent.
NBC’s correspondents, at least, got to shift over to MSNBC, which devoted tons of air time to the convention, as did CNN and Fox News Channel. What they showed of the convention, though, was different. Nancy Pelosi was snubbed by CNN and Fox. Jimmy Carter’s tribute video was snubbed by Fox and MSNBC, and Carter was ignored by Fox entirely. Jesse Jackson, Jr,? Not on MSNBC or Fox.
From 9 p.m. ET on, carriage was more common, though CNN decided not to show the Ted Kennedy tribute film co-produced by Ken Burns – a very odd call, considering that the ailing senator’s appearance, which the film set up, was one of the night’s two highlights. (Michelle Obama’s speech, the night’s only event covered by every network, was the other.) On cable, only C-SPAN showed everything gavel-to-gavel.