The Substance Factor

In our zeal to cover the spectacles, are we ignoring substance?

DENVER— It was a political spectacular, filled with nostalgia and deep emotion.

As the Democrats began their 45th national convention, organizers pulled out the stops. There were cheers and tears for Senator Edward Kennedy, stricken with brain cancer, as he exhorted delegates to wage war against the Republicans. And the candidate’s wife, Michelle, poised and confident, pleaded the case for her husband with passion.

Great pageantry. Brilliant choreography. But what is a journalist’s role in covering an event like this? Are we mere spectators, or stenographers manipulated by the political powers that be?

It’s perplexing. If we are reduced to being witnesses to a big show staged to impress the viewing public, are we fulfilling our responsibility?

Certainly, the haunting presence of Ted Kennedy and his attempt to rally the troops was news. The stately Michelle Obama’s speech was news, too.

But are the flashing lights and the music, cheers, and tears obscuring more vital matters?

Have we examined the Democratic platform to see what it promises or fails to promise? Have we made clear to voters the differences between Democratic and Republican health programs? Have we explored their differences on abortion rights, the economy, taxes, and Iraq?

Have we told the story of the new corps of Obama operatives who have taken over the party organization? Some of the Obama people have behaved arrogantly—denying credentials to people who have served the party well but not on the Obama team.

In our zeal to cover the spectacles are we ignoring substance?

I go back to the convention that nominated Adlai Stevenson in Chicago in 1952.

I see this convention as tightly controlled. Some veteran journalists have had trouble getting credentials. How democratic are the Democrats?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Gabe Pressman is the senior correspondent for New York City's WNBC-TV. He has been a journalist for over sixty years, and has won eight Emmys.