Lots of Coverage of Nothing

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If there was no news at the Democratic National Convention, as so many pundits have pointed out, then why were there 15,000 journalists attending it?

The answer is that national political conventions are social events, and journalists don’t often get a chance to party on expense accounts. Consequently, for years there have been three to four times as many journalists at these non-news events as delegates. There is a whole lot of schmoozing and boozing going on.

The dearth of real news is illustrated by how much airtime journalists wasted on the trivial remark John Kerry’s wife made to a rude journalist. After being badgered by the guy, she smiled, said, "Shove it," and walked off. That’s not even worth reporting. Everyone by now should know that Mrs. Kerry is an independent, outspoken woman who doesn’t suffer fools lightly.

My favorite put-down of a journalist was when ABC reporter John Stossel made the mistake of trying an "ambush interview" with a professional wrestler. He caught the guy coming out of the dressing room and asked him to admit that wrestling was fake, or words to that effect. The wrestler, who seemed in a foul mood, slapped Stossel completely off his feet and said, "Did that feel fake to you?" I believed the answer was no as Stossel crawled out of range on his hands and knees. He was a good-enough sport, however, to show his own beating on TV.

Let’s face it: Journalists are not popular. The last time I saw one of those lists of how the public rates people, journalists were down in the basement with undertakers and used-car salesmen. If you’re a public figure and you have to insult or strike somebody, a journalist is by far your best bet. Lawyers will sue, and athletes can usually give you a good whipping.

Someone asked me if I was afraid of physical attacks because I write a controversial column, and I said, "No, because I’m careful not to insult nonverbal people." I never criticize ironworkers, professional wrestlers or other people who might not be able to think of a snappy comeback. Inarticulate people are the kind of people who sometimes let their fists do their talking. For the more serious types who like to make death threats, I just remind them that I learned to shoot long before I learned to write.

Despite the lack of news, I always urge people to watch the conventions on television. If you watch C-SPAN or Public Television, you will get to hear the speeches uninterrupted, and I think that’s still a valuable thing to do in an election year. Most of the networks and cable talk-show channels keep the cameras on themselves and only occasionally let you hear a snippet of a speech. That’s a big irritant to me. We can always watch the TV vanities, but some of the people who speak at conventions are not always in the public limelight.

Since being a good communicator is an essential skill for a politician, if nothing else, you can make a judgment on that point. If you happened to watch Bill Clinton’s speech last week, you know why he was elected twice and why he could always drive Republicans crazy by stealing their ideas and articulating them better than they could. The guy’s an incorrigible rascal, but he sure knows how to talk.

It’s always best in an important election to get as much information as you can about candidates, unfiltered through journalists. I know that’s tough to do these days, but C-SPAN, the Internet and public libraries help.

It is possible for journalists to write unbiased and disinterested reports, but that style of journalism is currently out of favor. Opinion columnists, most of the TV guys and radio talk-show hosts are all paid to peddle opinions, not to do hard reporting. And, as it has been pointed out so often, opinions are like body orifices — most people have at least one.

But do vote this year for the guy you think is the better of the choices. After Florida 2000, nobody can say votes don’t count. Less than 1,000 votes put one man in the White House and kept another one out.

That could be the case in 2004, and your vote matters.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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