The Fourth Estate, in what is becoming an alarming trend, missed one of the biggest political stories of the decade while complaining nothing was going on.
Here we have the Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole, stumbling through the summer, making one dumb remark after another and falling hopelessly behind in the polls.
Then, suddenly and swiftly, he gets his act together. Mr. Dole names as his running mate Jack Kemp, a guy nobody predicted, jettisons his bedrock position on tax cuts and orchestrates a rancor-free convention.
The media all the while built up expectations for his acceptance speech, saying he needed to hit a home run if he had any chance of making a race of it. And when he hit at least a triple, the pundits said he didn't offer any vision of the future.
After the convention, Mr. Dole registered a rebound in the polls "that is remarkable even by post-convention-bounce standards," in the words of The Wall Street Journal. President Clinton's 20-point lead had dwindled to a measly few percentage points.
You would think that the press would relish a good come- from-behind story, one that was unfolding right before their eyes. But ABC-TV's Ted Koppel, in a head-in-the-sand view shared by most of his colleagues, complained that "nothing surprising has happened. Nothing surprising is anticipated."
This guy really has got a nose for news. Lynn Sweet, the Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief, said decisions by the networks smacked of "arrogance and elitism*.*.*.*It's not clear if viewers are rejecting the Republican script or the network package." Network ratings were at record lows for convention coverage, maybe because of their penchant for interviewing themselves rather than showing what was happening on the podium.
If the networks want higher ratings, why not treat the proceedings the same way NBC-TV handled the Olympics?
They could do heart-rending profiles of some of the delegates. And they missed a great opportunity by not airing that compelling speech by the black woman who moved off welfare (I almost said dole) to start her own business.
Let's be honest here. The networks aren't much good at uncovering real news, even when it's staring them in the face. So why not do what they do best-tell a story in a dramatic way.
The problem with the ratings is the same problem Mr. Dole is having with the voters-not enough women. NBC-TV did a great job of attracting women to its Olympic coverage, so my advice is to use John Tesh to anchor future political conventions. Ted Koppel complained that the GOP confab was an infomercial. The networks should go one better and program from strength by turning it into a soap opera.
Objective journalism it wouldn't be, but then neither is most of their other news reporting.