My first political convention was in 1964 when Democrats convened in Atlantic City to nominate Lyndon Johnson for a full term as president. I was a young copyboy at the NBC News network bureau in Washington. We arrived from Washington aboard a chartered DC-3 plane that also carried the late anchor/reporter Frank McGee and his wife.
Emotions were still raw from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy only nine months before. A floor battle over the seating of the delegation from Mississippi added to the drama and public interest. The “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party,” which was integrated, demanded to replace the all-white elected delegates on the grounds that blacks had been excluded from voting in the Mississippi primaries. A compromise was reached and that convention marked the last time Democrats would accept segregated delegations.
In 1964, the TV networks considered the process of nominating a presidential candidate so important to the country that all three carried the proceedings virtually “gavel to gavel.” NBC's anchors were Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. In addition to providing solid reporting with equally solid floor reporters, these two giants of broadcast journalism reported on the silly and bizarre happenings inside and outside the vast coliseum.
In 1964, even the platform committee hearings of both parties were covered, sometimes live.
I mention all of this to note how little of this year's conventions are being covered by the broadcast networks. Their arguments are familiar: The conventions have become scripted events that serve as infomercials for the two parties and they rarely make news; anyone interested in watching the conventions for longer periods than the one hour of prime time the broadcast networks give them can watch cable; real political junkies can switch to C-SPAN where they can watch these political telethons until the final gavel falls.
There is even talk at receptions where media types talk amongst themselves about doing away with these three-day political extravaganzas — or at least shortening them to a day and a night to attract more viewers. Saving money and time is also a consideration. It's a good idea and the old convention model will almost surely be put to rest after this year.
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