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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | TELEVISION

Soft-Hitting Coverage on Local News Shows

August 15, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Great entrance, great exit. Great speech, confidently delivered by a master in his medium. Wagging the same finger he wagged at the camera while denying a tryst with Monica S. Lewinsky, President Clinton made self-congratulations sound selfless.

Even if much of the nation doesn't, the camera still loves him.

But are things already getting hot for the Democrats or what?

Using Staples Center as a backdrop for his fist-jabbing harangue against tire-recalling Firestone earlier Monday evening was none other than the media's beloved Boobster, KCBS consumer affairs reporter Mike Boguslawski.

He had been inside interviewing delegates about Firestone, after which he emerged and had one of his signature snits for the camera, warning the company to "watch out for Bogie!" As he reddened while spitting and shouting, you were waiting for Democrats to throw a net over him before he sent himself into orbit over the hall and overshadowed Clinton's coming address.

Ah, the locals. Most L.A. newscasters aren't skilled or thoughtful journalists, but they're trying to play them on television this week.

Election campaigns of any ilk rarely resonate with stations here beyond the fancy profits they earn from paid political spots that end up filling the TV void of information their own indifference creates. When it comes to monitoring democracy on more than a superficial level, if at all, gavel-to-gavel silence is their style. Give them a good felony any day.

In the Democratic National Convention, though, crime-busting local stations and their junior G-men have finally found a political story they can cover. At least one they want to cover. Or feel they must cover because the local angle is too strong--and outside media attention too intense--to ignore.

Come to think of it, this is their kind of story, much less one of sophisticated politics than an event, one holding out the telegenic prospect of angry demonstrations in the streets. As a bonus, the convention has forced them to show images of minorities beyond their usual stories about criminals, athletes and Cinco de Mayo.

Newscasters here are as famous for snubbing what they shouldn't as for chasing cars chasing other cars on freeways. Yet out these sage philosophers came, one after another Monday, togas of live team coverage with stone tablets underarm, pondering the meaning of thousands of Democrats, media and protesters surging into Los Angeles.

What of the common wisdom that the Democratic convention will turn out to be as perfunctory and news-challenged as the GOP's coronation of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in Philadelphia?

"Forget about that!" snapped KNBC reporter Conan Nolan from his soapbox inside Staples Center. Steam seemed to be shooting from his ears. The convention "does mean something," he insisted. "If the Democrats want to prove they can run a government, they first have to prove they can run a convention."

Now for his second commandment. . . .

In her station's sky box above the floor, giddy KCBS anchor Gretchen Carr was clearly awed surveying the convention not long before Clinton's speech, informing viewers: "I can tell you to be here is amazingly exciting . . . on this historic occasion."

*

Earlier that morning, the excitement was less apparent at Staples, where souvenir-hunting KTLA reporter Eric Spillman was telling studio anchors Carlos Amezcua and Barbara Beck: "I'm going to come back with so many tchotchkes you won't even know what to do." And KTLA reporter Bill Smith was taking a distinctive approach to news in his videotaped chat on the convention floor with former President Carter, who was to be honored in the hall by delegates later that day.

"Carlos and Barbara send their best, by the way," he began the fleeting interview on the run, capping it with still another bracing revelation: "Sir, you were my candidate for Nobel Peace Prize. You still are." No doubt shaken by this brutal inquisition, the Jimster strode on.

The spit-wadding, hot-footing, short-sheeting, big-yucking KTLA morning anchors seemed mightily impressed that their colleagues in a Staples Center sky box were mixing with actual adults in long pants. "We're next to CBS," Beck chirped. "It's so cool."

At least the self-mocking morning news jesters of KTLA have a sense of their own irony, which eludes the Fox News Channel as it informs America of what's what from the convention floor. "No one will have more comprehensive news coverage than Fox news coverage," proclaimed reporter Trace Gallagher on the 24-hour news channel calling itself "spin free, fair and balanced." Trace, get a grip.

We have seen the tchotchkes, and they are us.

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