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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION | CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Democrat's Speech Lights a Fire Under GOP Delegates

Breaking news and forces of nature couldn't break up the monotony in cable news coverage. But that's where Sen. Zell eMiller comes in.

September 02, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

On Wednesday, there were developing stories that cable news normally loves -- a hurricane bearing down on Florida, a hostage situation at a school in Russia, and the bombshell out of Eagle, Colo., that prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case were going to drop their charges. But the 24-hour news networks mostly kept their death grip on the Republican National Convention.

This was hours before Vice President Dick Cheney spoke. God forbid we should miss another chance to soak up the all-pundits, all-the-time approach to convention coverage.

It feels strange to criticize the 24-hour news networks for taking a hands-off approach to breaking stories, given the way these outlets typically smother them.

But it's a reflection of the level of discourse, at the conventions and thus on TV, that a canned shot of a lawyer with a briefcase leaving the Eagle, Colo., courtroom promised exciting video.

Sadly, the story failed to interrupt the flow of nothing.

"We will have more on that story tomorrow night," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly said.

Tomorrow night? But I'm right here!

Cheney's speech was easily overshadowed by that of Sen. Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat turned ardent Bush supporter. Miller scowled into the camera like he'd just been told his plane had been delayed a third time and delivered a fiery condemnation of Kerry as a potential commander in chief.

John Kerry conducting the war on terror?

"Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending," Miller said.

Afterward, there was discussion into the night about whether Miller's rhetoric was too harsh, or whether it was refreshingly political, or whether the tone of the evening would sway the "bubba vote," as NBC's Tim Russert referred to undecided males.

Miller's speech, love it or hate it, had what TV demands -- personality.

"This is the man who wants to be commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces?" he said of Kerry. "U.S. forces armed with what -- spitballs?"

It was a low blow, designed, the pundits said, for the Republican Party's hard-line base.

After the novelty act of Miller's firebrand rhetoric, Cheney had a fired-up crowd to work with.

He had just as many inflammatory things to say about Kerry's fitness to lead in a time of war, but he got to deliver them with the gentle calm of a reasonable grandfather.

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