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Tampa on TV: Early convention coverage ignores the convention

August 28, 2012|By Robert Lloyd | Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • New York delegates react as Mitt Romney officially becomes the Republican nominee.
New York delegates react as Mitt Romney officially becomes the Republican… (David Goldman )

The Republican National Convention finally came to order Tuesday morning, its opening day having been preempted less by the Tampa weather than by the question of how bad the weather might get elsewhere, as Isaac grew into a hurricane and spun implacably across the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans. A natural disaster is tough competition, and a difficult co-star.

In any event, Monday had already been rendered moot. The broadcast networks had declined to cover it; they'll cover only highlights on the remaining nights. And whatever you want to say about the shifting fortunes of the network news, old-school prime time is still the television that counts. Anne Romney's speech, originally scheduled for Monday, had already been shifted to Tuesday to give it the widest possible play: It is expected to be a pillar of the convention, the Blue Fairy moment in which she will hopefully transform her famously wooden husband into a real boy.

The rest of Monday's business, including the roll call that officially crowned Mitt Romney candidate, was shifted to Tuesday afternoon, where, as would have been the case anyway, only cable looked on.

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The early hours of the convention, dedicated to procedural odds and ends and an assortment of bite-sized speeches, were largely ignored by all the outlets, which filled the time with celebrity anchors interrogating celebrity guests, often about things that had not happened yet and of which they could know nothing. Occasionally, they would “break away” from their ceaseless and repetitive talk to focus for a minute on the convention going on behind them.

Reports on Isaac's progress dominated much of those hours. Shepard Smith, who is from Mississippi and spent a week on the ground covering Katrina, did his show not from Tampa but from New Orleans. CNN’s Anderson Cooper, another Katrina vet, was there, too. Admittedly, it was, for the moment, the more compelling story.

If you want to see how the convention really goes about its business, to glimpse something of its human drama and comedy, you have to watch C-SPAN, which shows it all -- even the dead air and musical breaks -- without comment or cutaways. Whatever you lose in context, you gain in the experience of the actual event. However much TV's talking heads stressed the importance of what was happening, the way they covered the convention's opening events said, “This doesn't matter.”

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Even the roll call -- with its colorful local boasting and miniature history lessons as close to a vaunted tradition as these things have to offer -- played out mostly in the background or offscreen. It may be nothing but a pep rally, but a pep rally is an interesting thing if you pay attention.

There was Scott Romney, choking up as he directed Michigan's votes to “a man who happens to be my brother, and whom I love,” “next president of the United States.” There was Nevada, pointedly and “proudly” casting five votes for Ron Paul and muttering its Romney votes like a disgruntled afterthought. (Paul’s delegates had been literally marginalized, the states where he did well having been seated far from the stage; his tally was ignored from the stage, raising catcalls.)

“It's interesting listening to these intros,” said Fox’s Bret Baier, talking over one.

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