It’s tough because there really is a lot of white noise. And the white noise is not the press’ fault alone, the press gets caught up in it, but it’s generated often by the campaigns trying to avoid the more complicated nitty gritty of things. Then there’s always this kind of presumption of the incredible stupidity of American voter, which I don’t think is fair by the way — it’s a fault of the press. There’s always this sort of notion that people aren’t paying attention, they won’t pay attention. Of course people won’t pay attention if you give them stupid reporting. It seems to be a very strange equation: people aren’t interested in foreign policy, therefore we will talk about it in extremely simplistic, boiled-down ways that make it absolutely useless to pay attention. And then people say, “see, they don’t want to hear about it.” There’s an assumption about where America’s attention is. When you go out on the campaign trail, whether they’re highly informed or modestly informed, people are really, really engaged and wanting to talk about foreign policy this time. Foreign policy, war making, how to respond to the age of terror as it’s called, all these things are rather front and center on the minds of not just guys at the Council on Foreign Relations, but the guys in swing states and in blue collar jobs. That’s interesting.

LCB: With 15,000 media types swarming all over the FleetCenter and everything so carefully choreographed and scripted, how do you find anything original and interesting to write about [at the Democratic National Convention]?

PG: I’m not even trying. I’m not writing this week — I’m lucky I don’t have to write from the convention directly. I’m using it as a place to pick up some threads for some other stuff.

The conventions are much better on TV if you want to hear the speeches, see the speakers’ faces. If you want to feel how speeches work with the audience, then it’s very helpful to be in the room — to feel the difference between Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama. There was a lot of affection for Ted Kennedy in that hall, but his speech didn’t strike a lot of chords, it didn’t really energize the room. Barack Obama, for whom there was a lot of expectation, there was real surge, there was an excitement. And if you’re at home watching you can say wow, that was a really good speech, but you don’t quite feel that unless you’re there. And that’s the sort of thing I’m trying to get, to tune into how it’s all fitting together for pieces on other subjects. …

I might write from the [Republican] convention as well, to look at the two together, to get a sense of the texture of the party, who are the party activists, how does the party kind of identify itself. That’s something you get by wandering around these things and looking at the schedule of all the bizarre side breakfasts and parties and dinners. I don’t go to these things because you can’t do anything. They’re deafeningly loud, you’re crushed in with other people. You wander around [instead], you get a sense of who’s here, why are they here, what are they thinking, all of that’s very useful.

There’s obviously too much press on this thing … I’ve heard different statistics, but three or four reporters to every one delegate or any other kind of attendee. That’s crazy to me. But of course it’s a big gigantic television show. I think it’s much better on television because you are on a TV set. The entire FleetCenter is — and this is nothing new — a gigantic TV set being made to reach people in the hall but also to somehow broadcast to the world or whoever may be paying attention. …

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.