This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," August 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR This week on "FOX News Watch," a special look at political conventions and the press. Some wild times covered in print and big productions made for TV.
And what has the Internet done for the coverage and campaigns?
Plus, some prime time drama caught on tape or film.
And how will the coverage compare between Barack Obama's Rocky Mountain-high and McCain's party in the Twin Cities?
On our panel this week, Jane Hall of the American University; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, contributing editor and writer for the "American conservative" magazine; and Doug Wead, author of several books about the presidency.
I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now!
Here is a 1912 cartoon from "Harper's Weekly" called "After the Circus," characterizing the disaster that occurred at the Republican National Convention in Chicago back in that year. This was way before radio, TV and the Internet. The print press was king and it was really the only way Americans could learn about what went on at the political conventions.
The convention in 1912 led to a split Republican Party. The cartoonist shows the big tent of the Republican circus or convention stained with mud. Maybe blood, some say. The progressive front of the party is exiting and the conservative stand-pat back-half of the elephant is staying behind.
Cal, this was the convention. I would have loved to have been there. Can't say I was around. Neither were you.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Please don't say that. No, I wasn't.
SCOTT: But this was the one in which Teddy Roosevelt called President William Howard Taft a fathead and said he was dumber than a guinea pig. Can you imagine candidates saying that today?
THOMAS: No, they couldn't. It would be all over YouTube. Politics was more real then. People said what they meant. Sure, it was dirtier, but politics has always been a contact sport. If you go back in history, as our former host Eric Burns did in his book, "Infamous Scribblers," even before the nation became a nation, there were all kinds of broadsheets and other things that impugned the motive, morality and relationships of politicians. This is nothing new.
The difference between then and now, as you suggested, is it can go around the world in just a few seconds. Back then, it took longer to get the press printing the newspapers.
SCOTT: Taft responding calling Roosevelt a dangerous egotist and a demagogue. Would the press let a candidate get away with it these days?
DOUGLAS WEAD, AUTHOR: No, but they didn't back then either. I think we overestimate the power of radio and television. They followed, for example, during the Civil War, hour by hour, the battles. It was the way the word got out. Even when the country was mostly illiterate, those who could read would read the post as they came out. It's changed but it's not totally different from what it's always been.
SCOTT: The language is so much more sanitized now, Jim.
WEAD: I don't know if that's true necessarily, John. There were -- they were accusing candidates of fathering illegitimate children. There were big scandals from the very beginning. There were duels.
SCOTT: No, I'm saying today, though -- I mean if Barack Obama or John McCain were to refer to one of the others -- would refer to the competition by some of these terms?
WEAD: They're more indirect. You remember McCain was supposed to have fathered a child. There was that awful unfair wrong innuendoes that were on passed during the primaries. So it goes on and on.
JIM PINKERTON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR & WRITER, "AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE": And sometimes they were true. For example, in 1884, Grover Cleveland did admit to having a fathered and illegitimate child. And he still won the election. So that tells you something.
But certainly, looking back to 1912 is interesting, because Teddy Roosevelt was the former president, ended up running as a third party. He was the exiting elephant. Whereas Taft, represented the behind elephants in that cartoon. but, of course, John McCain very much styles himself as a Teddy Roosevelt and sees himself as changing the Republican party, as you put it, in a progressive direction, so the notion that the dynamics of parties continues even a century's distance.
SCOTT: Jane, 1924 radio was just coming in to its own. It guess about 5 percent of the listeners -- 5 percent of the American people could listen to the convention coverage on radio. Eight years later, 60 percent of the nation had radios. How did it change the way the convention was presented and covered?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, there are a couple of things. One was that the Republicans nominated Calvin Coolidge, not a lot of news there. The Democrats took forever. I think 105 roll call votes.
And the great thing -- I went back and looked up, you know, what was said. It was get a ringside seat by a radio so you can hear. You don't have to be a candidate's wife, or influence peddler. Have a seat. In the 1950s, Milton Berle sold television sets. It's heartening to me to know radio really sold it. Also, that's when they began to change the event for the spectators.
THOMAS: That's true.
HALL: At home.
HALL: It became -- the speeches got shorter for one thing. The speeches used to go on for hours. And it began to be a thing of, oh, how are we going to program to the audience that's not sitting here.
THOMAS: You could hear the speeches in real-time as well as opposed to a day, two or a week later depending how fast the media could report it. You could hear the voices of politicians and that was essential as well. Men had to speak in baritone voices with clipped words instead of whatever they did before.
SCOTT: All right. We have much more to cover. We have to take a short break. But first...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDER VANOCUR, FORMER NBC AND ABC NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: 1968, Chicago. I never feared for my safety. I was very careful, though. Not cautious. Just careful. Because I knew there was somebody from a union that was following me on the floor. And I was at great care not to be arrested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Unless you intend to arrest me, don't push me, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible).
RATHER: I know you won't, but don't push me. Take your hands off of me unless you plan to arrest me.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
RATHER: Walter, as you can see...
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: I don't know what is going on, but this -- these are security people apparently around Dan.
CRONKITE: Obviously, getting roughed up.
RATHER: We tried to talk to man and we got bodily pushed out of the way. This is the kind of thing that's been going on outside the hall. It's the first time we had it happen inside the hall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: That was from the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.
Cal, memorable as an event, but maybe not so much great politics. Richard Daley, the mayor, was widely blamed for all of that. Did he underestimate the power of television?
THOMAS: Absolutely. He was from the old school where he thought he could do and say anything and get away with it. The one great clip there wasn't in the sound byte was Walter Cronkite tell Dan, "It looks like we've got a bunch of thugs down there." And then of course it was followed by Daley on the floor of the convention when Abe Ribicoff, who was Jewish and from Connecticut, senator, got up and said, "It looks like the city of Chicago is dominated by Gestapo police tactics." And Daley gets up and shoots an index finger at him. It was wild. But it confirmed what the American people thought of the Democratic Party at that time -- dope, free love, open sex, violence, disrespect for the police. And the Democrats have spent 40 years trying to live that down.
PINKERTON: I was going to say, Ribicoff accusing a fellow Democrat of being a Nazi is sort of overstatement. It's kind of like -- and all these reporters, so clearly piling on, that the Daley political machine -- all Mayor Daley did was be a good Democrat, get the Democrats elected. And the liberal media hated him. And that tape by Sander Vanocur saying I'm being followed around by a union man. What did that mean, in the preceding segment? It meant -- he was talking about thuggish Daley goons, in his mind, who were intimidating these good reporters.
That's the split in the Democratic Party.
SCOTT: Jane, it about to thug...
PINKERTON: The Democratic Party has never recovered and that's why they lost seven of the last ten presidential elections including '68.
HALL: I agree with why they lost. Republicans in Miami, they barely had a palm tree that had any interest on their campaign.
HALL: But I mean, it was total control. And they ran on law and order and everybody thought the Democrats were lawless.
I have to say, it wasn't -- I mean, the commission that investigated this, the police, you know, not the Democrats, the police were rioting and targeting the journalists. It was a riot in Chicago. You can't blame it on the Democrats.
PINKERTON: And then Abbey Hoffman -- yes, you can. Abbey Hoffman, one people arrested, said he went there to riot.
HALL: That's not Hubert Humphrey. Hubert Humphrey didn't want that.
PINKERTON: He admitted it. But he admitted the protesters went there to screw up Johnson and Humphrey.
HALL: But they did because you have this incredible split screen where producers were trying to decide do I show Humphrey's speech or do I show these guys rioting?
THOMAS: The way the media covered that is why the conventions today are so controlled and scripted to keep that from happening again. And Chicago in '68 has affected everything we've seen since then.
SCOTT: Although one of the rallying cries in Denver this year, you probably heard it, is recreate '68.
THOMAS: There's a web page for that.
WEAD: But it can't be done. They make deals now. So they go to Denver and say we'll come to your city, but we have to have this deal. They work with the mayor. They work with the police. No one can get close to the convention, even on the ground without a certain pass. That convention changed the way we've have conventions.
SCOTT: What is it like, Jane, to be a working journalist at one of the conventions?
HALL: Well, you know, I was thinking about that today. I mean, I, you know, I like a Frank Capra movie. Not much that happens...
SCOTT: You haven't been billy-clubbed over the head?
HALL: No. I like when the balloons fall down. I'm totally corny about this. There is a lot of lobbying that goes on. There could be more news. It's still is once every four years and still is a ritual. It's exciting.
THOMAS: Jane likes the free food and drinks. Be honest.
SCOTT: All right. Something dramatically different from the chaos of the Chicago convention occurred in 1996, in San Diego.
Take a look at this memorable declaration from ABC's Ted Koppel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: There was a time when the national political conventions were news events of such complexity they required the presence of thousands of journalists. But not this year. If anything important happens, we will certainly have an adequate staff here to cover it. And we will send an equivalent unit to Chicago. But we don't all have to be here. So most of us from "Nightline" are going home tomorrow.
This convention may prove to be one of the most interesting news stories in the world tomorrow. If so, we'll cover it. If not, we'll do something else.
That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in San Diego.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: With that, he packed his bags and went back to New York.
Do you blame him, Jim?
PINKERTON: This just shows the arrogance of the press. I mean the presumption that they're there to entertain him and that Ted Koppel, in his pompous way, decides what is important or not important.
Look, the political parties go there to nominate somebody. There actually is news there, in the platform, the rules committee, the credentials for the next convention. If Ted Koppel doesn't like it, good riddance.
SCOTT: But speaking to what Doug said earlier, these things are tightly controlled.
PINKERTON: Sure they're tightly controlled. They don't want riots but the politics still occurs there.
HALL: There was a very interesting piece in the "Wall Street Journal," an interesting proposal, which is it would be great if they did something like the conservative political action group or the net group where you have people -- the delegates would actually be able to do something. And you would have second-tier people that were new politicians, that would speak. You wouldn't have this command performance. You would have fewer journalists but it might be more interesting.
SCOTT: I brought it up before, you had the prospect this year for the first time of a long time of a convention where something would be decided. Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. And the Democrats were desperate to make sure that didn't happen. They wanted a winner before -- well before the convention.
THOMAS: Right. Well, that still hasn't decided what her role is and her husband's role and George Bush's rule and Dick Cheney's role at the Republican convention going to be.
SCOTT: All right, we have to take a break but we'll be back with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANOCUR: My advice to the press this year is to read the Hippocratic Oath, which doctors have to swear to, which is, first, do no harm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By watching both conventions, people will be able to make the right decisions and not be biased toward anything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Barack Obama, aiming high in the Mile-High City, will accept the party's nomination August 28 at Denver's Invesco Field, the outdoor station that's home to the Denver Broncos. Expecting more than 76,000 people in person, millions more watching on television.
This was a monkey wrench, Cal, thrown at the networks to cover this, because you need more cameras, more cables, more everything. Could the networks just say, no, we're not going to cover it?
THOMAS: They could. They probably should, as Paul Friedman of CBS argued, but they won't. They can't. This is the second non-official venue since 1960 that a political convention has done. John Kennedy did not accept the nomination in the convention hall. Now Barack Obama isn't.
I talked to a top Republican Party leader recently who said he fully expects in one or two more election cycles that the conventions would then go Thursday to Saturday and would no longer be an entire week because of the lack of interest. There is just nothing going on.
SCOTT: Why not, if you're going to put Obama become at Invesco Field, why not put him in front of a green screen of Mount Rushmore and have him be the fifth head or something on Mount Rushmore?
HALL: You don't think he'd be accused of being presumptuous, do you?
HALL: It's canny stage craft? I think what is going on in the last 20 or 30 years is this sort of mutually assured destruction that broadcast networks have reduced it. Cable has come in. I think we shouldn't -- and they just jockeyed as to how many hours the broadcast guys will get. I don't think they can not cover it.
I think what is really interesting is this is a very interesting election with very serious issues. It would be really fun if someone could figure out maybe to cut away from the stage craft and cover what is going on in the country. What a novel idea.
SCOTT: Two different candidates.
PINKERTON: Meanwhile, back to Obama, I think when this idea of the live event in front of the stadium first emerged a couple months ago, people thought how brilliant, Obama will blow away McCain. Then came the McCain, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton ad and then the prism through which we look at Obama, at least Republicans and conservatives, as this showboat, has changed. Now Obama is going up in front of 75,000 people and will confirm the stereotype he's just some vaporous blow-hard. And I think they'll come to regret having done this.
SCOTT: All right, so let's talk a little bit...
WEAD: It makes him look like Kennedy and that's why they're doing it. I think Obama has a tremendous advantage right now and that is this. They even toyed with him naming the V.P. in advance. The reason is it would dominate the news for ten days and McCain would complain. And the media would say what can we do, he'll name his V.P. But he will not diminish the convention. People, even Republicans, will tune in to see the first black African-American nominated by a major party. He will have a viewership at his convention no matter what he does and that puts McCain in a spot.
SCOTT: Let's talk about McCain. Days after the Democrats close up their shop in Denver, McCain and the Republicans kick off their party in St. Paul on the first of September, hoping to refocus the media attention on him.
Can he pull it off, Cal?
THOMAS: Well, he can. One of the advantages he has is that there won't be enough time for the usual bouts coming out of the Democratic convention, because you go right into the Republican convention. But a measure disadvantage he's going to have -- and I don't know who did the schedule of it. Thursday night, the night of his acceptance speech is the opening night of the NFL football season with the Washington Redskins playing the Giants. If that game runs over, it could run into his acceptance speech.
SCOTT: The NFL actually moved the start time up to try to avoid that, but it could happen.
THOMAS: They did. But it could happen.
WEAD: There's more. McCain will be in St. Paul. But St. Paul will be in Minneapolis. Ron Paul is running his own convention in Minneapolis.
If McCain doesn't have a very interesting convention, the media will be tempted to go cover it.
SCOTT: A lot of people are still steamed about what they fear is unfair media treatment of Ron Paul.
SCOTT: The blogs, what role do they play in all of this?
PINKERTON: This has been the year in which, both on the left and the right, the net root's nation on the left and right has really emerged as a big force. The ever be twittering, to use a copyrighted term, on the convention, where every two seconds will be sending text messages to their friends and creating a new network out there. Nobody quite knows what will happen.
But it does mean that there will be a lot of pseudo-news out of the convention as people chitchat with each other, only then to realize someone is text messaging the answer back to 20 million people.
SCOTT: Jane, is it the year of the Internet?
HALL: I think, you know, I was trying to remember it was some years ago there was the first Internet alley. They started the convention -- people started to realize they needed to give credentials and needed to do something. I think the blogging and the text messages and the viral network and the podcast, this is a year when -- it's certainly been a factor in the election. Whether it's big in the convention, we don't know. There may or may not be news.
SCOTT: We have to take one more break. When we come back --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this year, more than any year, it's been exciting. There is a lot of controversial going on. The fact that we have a minority, older man from an older generation and then we had a woman at the start, Hillary Clinton, it's just all my interest from the get-go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Now, of course, "FOX News" will be covering the convention. So we hope you join us. Here are some of our plans. Beginning August 25th, we'll be in Denver, bringing you live coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Because Denver is my hometown, I will be especially proud to be there and be a part of our FOX coverage team. Then we're off to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Republican National Convention, September 1st through the 4th.
Several FNC programs are scheduled to air live from both conventions including "FOX and Friends," "America's News Room," "Studio B with Shepherd Smith," "Your World" with Neil Cavuto and "On the Record" with Greta van Susteren. Also "FOX News Radio," "Fox Business Network" and foxnews.com will be proving extensive coverage of both conventions.
That's all the time we have let this week.
I want to thank Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Doug Wead.
I'm Jon Scott. Thanks for joining us. Keep is it right here on FOX News channel for the latest news and more.
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