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July 31, 2000 Contact:
Brian Faith (202) 667-0901
Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Panel Discussion:
Is There a Future For the On-the-Air Televised Conventions?

July 30, 2000, 12:00 p.m.
Mayor's Reception Room, Philadelphia City Hall
Philadephia, Pennsylvania
Full Transcript

Convention Report: Is There a Future for On-the-Air Televised Conventions? Networks, Party Chairs Differ Sharply on Obligation of TV Networks to Cover Conventions

Walter H. Shorenstein and the Joan Shorenstein Center hosted a panel discussion at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia on July 30, 2000 to address the future of broadcast network convention news coverage. The panelists included Tom Brokaw, ABC's Chris Bury, Judy Woodruff, CBS President Andrew Heyward, DNC Chair Edward Rendell, and RNC Chair Jim Nicholson.

Alex S. Jones
Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

Thomas E. Patterson
Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and former acting director of the Joan Shorenstein Center

Marvin Kalb
Executive director of the Washington office of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy

Panel Members:
Tom Brokaw, Anchor, NBC Nightly News
Judy Woodruff, Anchor, CNN Election 2000
Jim Nicholson, Chairman, Republican National Committee
Edward G. Rendell, General Chair, Democratic National Committee
Chris Bury, Correspondent and Substitute Anchor, ABC's Nightline
Andrew Heyward, President, CBS News


Alex S. Jones: I am Alex Jones. I am the director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. I want to welcome you all today. Our subject is is there a future for on-the-air televised conventions.

Before we get to that touchy issue, let me say a very few words about the Shorenstein Center. In 1986 the center was endowed by Walter Shorenstein as a tribute to his daughter Joan, who was a fiercely independent and talented journalist who died too young of breast cancer. It was her father's idea of what she would have wanted. And I think he was quite right. Walter, would you like to come up and say a few words?

Walter Shorenstein: When the center was created, I recall that anchormen said to me, No matter what you do about Joan around Joan, just make sure that she smiles on you at whatever activity you pick on her behalf. And I was exposed to the Kennedy School of Harvard by Ted Kennedy, Al Koenig, and others of Joan's friends, David Gardener and so on. And when we started this friendship, there was a twinkle in everyone's eye. And there wasn't much there, but we knew that we would have a variety of subjects. And, certainly, we owe a great deal of credit to Marvin Kalb for the tremendous strides that the center has made. So now Alex is taking over and I'm sure he'll do a great job. It's really a thrill to see how the center has really advanced itself and the impact its had.

Alex S. Jones: As Walter has said, shortly after he created the center, he managed to entice Marvin Kalb to take a gigantic cut in salary and move from CBS to Harvard and it really is Marvin who is the person most responsible for building the foundation that the Shorenstein Center enjoys today. But what is the center? It is essentially Harvard's think tank and research engine of the press. But it is a very special hybrid.

It's an academic creature installed at one of the great academic institutions yet it is by design created to be run by the journalists. This is not by accident. The core mission the core mission of the Shorenstein Center is to illuminate the way the news media affects politics and even public policy. That is a huge job in my the way I look at it. It's a very enormously challenging job as well. It's certainly very germane in a time when everyone has a lot of opinions about the power of the media, especially when it comes to politics and public policy, when there is relatively little nonetiological, authoritative, accessible, straight-talking research and knowledge about how the news media actually affects politics and public policy.

The Shorenstein Center is about a lot of things, but that's the main thing it's about. That is our peak. And I can tell you that it is my intention in years to come to make sure that we fulfill that mission, that we do provide the kind of information, authoritative, nonetiological, penetrating information about how the news media affects politics and public policy that will we hope lead to the press doing their job even better than it does or perhaps simply improving some. Today's program is right in line with our core mission. We're here to talk about whether network television should be spending more time covering these conventions, conventions that a lot of people say are boring. Does it matter that network television has cut its covering of the conventions to the bone? Well, let me offer you two statistics quickly.

We estimate that about 25 million registered voters this is not voting age here; this is registered voters. 25 million registered voters have access only to broadcast television. They do not have access to cable or satellite. 25 million. In the presidential election in 1996 the margin of victory of Bill Clinton was 8 million votes. What do those two numbers have anything really to do with each other is part of the thing we want to be talking about today.

Before we begin, I want to give special thanks to John DeLuca of the Orion Institute for helping make today's panel possible. I also want to recognize my new colleague, David Pryor, Senator David Pryor from Arkansas, who has just become director of the Institute on Politics at the Kennedy School.

Alex S. Jones: Finally, I want to tell you that a transcript of the conversation that we're about to have will be available on the Shorenstein web site tomorrow. I'd now like to introduce my colleague from the Shorenstein Center, Tom Patterson, who is Harvard's Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press, and co-directed with Harvard on the Shorenstein Center's very successful and very illuminating Vanishing Voter Project. Tom will set the stage on the issue before us today. Tom?

Thomas E. Patterson: Alex, thank you. I'd also like to thank The Pew Charitable Trusts, which provided the grant that has made the Vanishing Voter Project possible.

Since early November we've been conducting weekly national polls around people seeking to discover what draws people to the campaign and what drives them away. For these eight months nearly all of the intense interest and learning was crammed into about a six-week period and that's the period from the New Hampshire Primary to Super Tuesday. We didn't find much interest before then and people didn't inquire much information about the candidates and we haven't found much since then. In fact, in May we found that Americans were less informed about Gore and Bush issue positions than they were in March. The campaign had gone out of mind and they had forgotten much of what they learned during the peak period.

It's not the case that public interest and information builds slowly over the course of the campaign. Their response is to key moments: The major primaries, the televised debate, and the general election and the convention. These are the moments that draw people into the campaign, makes them willing to listen and learn, and we're all not going to let any of them slip away without careful consideration.

I've provided a paper that I think was at each of your seats and I want to highlight a couple of points that I made in the paper. You might find it a little bit helpful. If you have the single sheet, that has a couple of grafts on the paper.

The on-the-air television convention is slipping away. In 1976 ABC and CBS and NBC averaged more than 50 hours of convention coverage. By 1996 it had shrunk to 12 hours. This year two networks look like they'll cover ten hours; one, five hours.

The audience has also declined, although less sharply. It was 60% of this 1976 level in 1996. Our survey showed declining interest this year. We project roughly a 50% level compared to 1976. We think that if on-the-air conventions are to be preserved, the parties and networks will have to change their way of looking at conventions. The parties need to loosen their grip a bit, allow for a bit more conflict and spontaneity. Understandably, no party wants a repeat of the 1968 Democratic Convention. But that convention aside, looking at conventions from 1960 to 1996, there's no evidence that the value that the nominees receive the gain in the polls from the convention is bigger when we run a tightly orchestrated convention as opposed to when we run one that's mildly unruly.

But the audience size is quite substantially impacted. Again, looking at 1960 to 1996 and looking at increase in viewing in convention viewing audience, a little bit of conflict draws an audience. We found that also in our recent survey when we asked people why they were not going to watch the conventions. Some people never watch conventions. But those who might be expected to watch a convention and are not going to watch this year said it's lack of suspense, the lack of excitement that's keeping them away.

  Fig. 2: Percentage Making Vote Choice During Convention Period, 1960-1996
Percentage Making Vote Choice During Convention Period, 1960-1996
Source: American National Election Studies.

The parties have a big stake in preserving the on-the-air convention. This is the key decision point in the campaign. We talk about the debates as being the decisive encounter of the campaign, but a lot more votes move during the convention period. And not since John Kennedy in 1960 did a major party nominee come from behind after Labor Day to win the presidency. The conventions enable the parties to pull back those wavering partisans, to intensify the loyal partisans, and even to reach out to the young and part of that generation that grew up on party politics by watching the summer conventions. As you can see from Figure 2, those kinds of effects in the campaign have diminished as the convention on-the-air has diminished.

The on-the-air networks' stake in the conventions is less direct, but they do have public service responsibility. And that responsibility doesn't go away simply because you can find gavel-to-gavel coverage on cable. For one thing, as Alex mentioned, there are many American households that do not have cable television or satellite television. It's about 25% of the vote. In addition, we captured many of the viewers for the conventions simply because they were watching television and happened across the convention, happened to see the conventions on their television sets.

We did a poll in the past week and we asked people, Do you know when the Republican Convention is going to be held? Is it about a week, two weeks, a month, or don't you know? 74% of Americans said they didn't know when the Republican Convention would be held. Well, some of them are going to find out tomorrow night. But this is today. And that's the point. There's a big inadvertent audience that gets pulled into the convention simply because they're watching television and have some interest in politics and stay tuned.

And we estimate that if the networks were to drop their convention coverage entirely, you'd probably cut the convention audience roughly in half. The networks all need to recognize that convention coverage is not an ugly duckling unless you're willing to put all news in public affairs programming in this category.

Fig. 3: Convention and News Ratings
Convention and News Ratings
 

As you can see from Figure 3, if you flip the page, the decline in the convention audience parallels almost exactly to that of the nightly news audience. Cable, and not only the media, are doing a number on our news audience. And the convention audience has held up as well as the others. But convention coverage has not held up.

It's been cut drastically, often with the claim that the public is particularly uninterested in the conventions. If the networks had cut the length of their nightly newscasts as scathingly as they have cut their convention coverage as their audience ratings have declined, the nightly news today would last six minutes.

We have no illusion that the televised conventions can somehow be restored to their former prominence. We thought it important to explore whether they can have a better future than present trends would indicate.

And I'd like to personally thank the panelists for joining us in this effort. And with that, we'll bring it back to Alex Jones. Thank you very much.

Alex S. Jones: We're going to assemble ourselves if you'll give us just a moment. Okay. Marvin Kalb has been a newsman or was a newsman, active newsman, for 30 years. He was director of the Shorenstein Center as well. He's been coming to these conventions and covering them for over a quarter of a century. I am extremely proud to be his successor as director of the Shorenstein Center. Marvin?

Marvin Kalb: Thank you very much. I'd like to congratulate you on your new job. You'll find it to be a terrific place.

I'd like to start with a bit of borderline graphical nostalgia. I remember a time and it wasn't too many conventions ago when the president of the news divisions would define competition by how much more coverage they could provide of national conventions; not by the artful cutbacks in the time provided the conventions. And I came upon a moment last night when I recalled that CBS used to have four to four horsemen; four key reporters that would cover the convention floor and then there would be four others lurking on the near horizon ready to pick up the slack. So there would be eight first class reporters ready to do it. And then last night there was poor Ed Bradley walking into the Four Seasons by himself. And he is going to be the lone CBS correspondent on the floor. And that in and of itself says a great deal to me about the radical change in the way in which conventions are being covered by the networks.

So what's going on? Not only the vanishing voter, but a CNN poll has said that 70% of the American people think is the word that they choose think that conventions are boring. But at the same time CNN says that 70% of the American people also used two other words to describe conventions; one of them informative and the other the phrase good for democracy.

Now, an ABC reporter Anchor Cokie Roberts, I think reflecting network attitudes was asked how the American people can be persuaded to watch boring conventions. And she answered and this is a quote if we could tie them to their chairs and hold their eyes open with toothpicks, that would be a different matter.

So is it really that bad? I mean, are the conventions as conceived by the politicians now so deliberately cut back into something bland and flaccid and moved right along, don't make any waves are the networks in terms of their news judgments now propelled by totally different kinds of economic or technological drives that compel them to move in a different direction? But I guess the panelists this afternoon are doomed to try to help us understand some of this.

Now, on my right, the anchor and managing editor for NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw. He figured out, by the way, a couple of years ago what fun it is to write books and his book, "The Greatest Generation," is still on the best seller list. It's an amazing book. And Tom has covered many conventions and I know from personal experience that he really enjoys this stuff.

On my left a matter of geography; not politics Andrew Heyward, who has been the president of CBS News since January of 1996. He was executive producer of CBS Evening News With Dan Rather and he developed and launched 48 Hours and he, too, loves politics.

To my right, Judy Woodruff. Along with Bernard Shaw, she co-anchors CNN's Election 2000 campaign coverage. She's also CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She's been an anchor for about 30 years, having worked for NBC and also PBS. And she also gets that glimmer in her eye when the subject is politics.

To my left, Chris Bury, a correspondent and a substitute anchor for ABC's Nightline. We're especially delighted that Chris could be here. He's been with ABC since 1982, covering a range of conventions as well as White House assignments, I believe.

And now to my immediate right, The Honorable Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee since January 1997. In 1993 he was elected vice-chairman of the RNC. And in 1984, if I'm correct, he was elected from Colorado to the committee, the Republican National Committee. And to my left, The Honorable Edward Rendell, who was elected general chair of the Democratic National Committee in September of last year after finishing eight years as mayor of the fair city of Philadelphia. And before that he served two terms as District of Columbia district attorney.

All right. So let's get started.

Our subject, is there a future for on-the-air televised conventions. I've asked everyone for an opening statement of about a minute or two no more than that and I'm going to start with Tom and then go on to Andrew.

Tom Brokaw: Well, the basic question is will there be a future for television coverage of future conventions. The short answer is yes. We're seeing a new form this year and we'll see even more new form in the years to come. I can anticipate, for example, that eight years or probably now four years from now a lot of people in America will be watching television on a video screen on their small laptop personal computers or even hand-held devices that are wireless. What will be the role of over-the-air television? It will continue to have a role in these conventions. But just as it will on cable, the amount of the coverage and the nature of that coverage will depend in large part on what happens in the convention hall.

One of the things that's happened and the parties have witnessed it for the last several conventions I've been to is that they have their best chance in the fall if they drain all the news and suspense from these proceedings, scrub them up, and put forth the best possible face. One could even say that this is going to be a week long infomercial of the Republican Party. They have that right to do that. In fact, it's paid off for them in the past, both from the Democratic and Republican Party.

Marvin talked about earlier days. 1976. I remember vividly covering on-the-air in the middle of the afternoon the Democratic Convention in New York City. The Winograd Commission was doing a major overhaul of convention rules for the Democratic Party and at one point the debate was so opaque that even Mr. Winograd could not explain to me the point that was being debated. I wondered then what public service was being borne.

So my own very strong recommendations, if not inherently to that, is that I think the parties have to think about how they organize these conventions a little more. Maybe we have a Surviving Philadelphia Week, for example, where voters decide who has to stay in Philadelphia at the end of the week and they decide whether go home with this. Or we get Walter Shorenstein to throw a sumptuous brunch in every home in America if they'll watch the convention. I personally have no illusion that you're all here because you're entertained by this subject matter. It's normally the idea of a free lunch.

On this note, when Alex said there are 25 million registered voters in this country who do not have cable or satellite television, it might have occurred to the people who were doing that poll that many of them are doing that by choice. It's not that they're denied that and that they will have access to an enormous amount of coverage this week more than they've ever had in the past because of the various layers of media. And then when you tie that to the 8 million votes that President Clinton won by, you can look to Bob Bartley in the Wall Street Journal because I think that's the only reason he hasn't come up with to explain Bill Clinton's success.

Marvin Kalb: Thank you, Tom. Andrew Heyward.

Andrew Heyward: It's great to be here. And, actually, it's a reminder of where I could be for an hour if it weren't for the Republican stage and the free lunch.

Judy Woodruff: You can come on over here.

Andrew Heyward: Okay. My thoughts would be there's no such thing as a free lunch. I think, actually, I would turn the premise around a little bit. To me it's significant that the networks still devote as many resources as they do to the conventions. And if you look at the morning programs and evening programs that have picked up and come here to Philadelphia and look at the amount of coverage in prime time that the convention will get and add to that the fact that the coverage of the acceptance speech and access to the airwaves that neither candidate will not get except for the State of the Union Address when one of them becomes president, I still think there's enormous commitment to covering the conventions in spite of all the phases in the bipartisanism through all the conventions.

There are really three factors going on here. The conventions have changed. It's ironic to me that they're making the conventions perfect enough to be a television show. A lot of suspense, as Tom said, has drained out. It's become less interesting even as it's been customized for TV over the years. The audience has changed and this kind of an active disengagement from politics is a much bigger issue than convention coverage. It certainly is worthy of analysis. It's a profound issue to the American future of our democracy. And, of course, the communication and information landscape has shifted sizably over the years. And to long for, opine for the kind of the number of hours or to count minutes that we had in 1976 is nostalgia bordering on whimsy. I just don't think it's realistic.

Finally, I would say that, you know, it's not up to me or any journalist to lecture the parties on what should be done. That's not our role in society. And I've always resented or at least rejected attempts to get together with the parties and talk about how to make conventions more interesting. That's not our job. As Tom said, it's the party's right to make it a pep rally or infomercial. I think our job is to cover the news that's there and I think what will come out in the future is going to be a compound of those two things, where those areas overlaps the parties' interest in propagating its message and the journalists' interest in covering it. Where those things overlap is where we will find the appropriate amount of coverage. And, clearly, anybody who is remotely interested, whether you have cable or not, you can learn all about the conventions. There are still 15,000 journalists here. We're not taking it that far. So to say there's no news or lack of interest is not true.

Marvin Kalb: It's an interesting question. If there is no news, where do we go from here? Judy Woodruff

Judy Woodruff: It's good to be here even if I am a token as I humbly regret. To me the question, Marvin and Alex, really shouldn't be should networks all the networks cover conventions. It's should they cover the election comprehensively. If you don't cover a convention, which is the only time the national parties come together in four years, what about important speeches? What about the debates? I mean, what about any other important time when the party comes together to define itself to the American people? Should they ignore those?

To me the case is even more compelling than ever this year because the stakes are higher than usual. Number one, whatever the polls are telling us, this is going to be one of the closest, closest elections we've seen. In the last century we maybe had what? four or five elections that were truly close. This is going to be one of those. There is no incumbent. There were only half a dozen times in the last century when you had an election without a president already in office who was running.

You have an election where George Bush and Al Gore are talking about important issues for a change in election. They're talking about Social Security. They're talking about education, taxes, healthcare, and so on.

The stakes for the House of Representatives and even maybe for the Senate are considerable. The governors are going to play a huge role in reinforcement, which of course happens every ten years.

And last but not least the third branch of government, the supreme court. We've had a number a record number of 5 to 4 decisions, split decisions, on the court. Not just about abortion but about criminal rights and other things. Where his support goes, who the next president appoints matters. What's more, it is during these conventions and we've heard this mentioned a few minutes ago. These conventions are when so many people start to pay attention to the election. They start to size up these nominees. Who is this guy?

What's his experience? What does he believe? Who's his family? Who's around him? And most of the studies that have been done show people don't really start paying attention again until the debates in October. Are we really going to argue that people should wait until October to start paying attention? If we don't play a role, then it seems to me that we leave it up even more to the paid consultants the people who the political parties and candidates pay to shape the message and to shape what the voters are hearing.

All right. To those who say we need cable, while that does have a certain parochial appeal to my thought, Tom Johnson who is here, by the way, clipping notes saying how long should they be watching cable, the 25 million. We agree with that. But, you know, there is a simple response to that. Should the one-third or one-fourth or whatever it is of the American electorate who don't now have access to cable have less ability to make informed judgments as they go about deciding the most important job there is? I don't think anybody would argue that that's the case.

What I am not arguing, however, Marvin, as we attempt to carry these conventions exactly as the parties produce is that we should give all the energy and synergy and creativity that we can muster. We should add texture. We should add historical contexts, political contexts. We should talk about subject everything they say to critical analysis. These infomercials that my friends Ed and Jim were going to put on are good for the parties. I'm glad C-SPAN doesn't carry them, but we who are here covering them need to subject them to the news judgment as well.

What I am arguing is that we can use this as a time to educate the American people, to inform them, to focus on tensions inside the parties where we can find them whether it's free trade, whether it's the American role in the world and so forth and also focus on where the parties stand in their roles. It's up to us to put the face on the Republican Party and in two weeks from now the Democratic Party. Who is this party? Who are its leaders? What do they stand for? And so on and so on.

I'm not saying this convention is going to attract an enormous number of viewers. We all know there's not a lot of suspense. But I think for me the bottom line and also for my good friend and former colleague Jim Redar (phonetic) who recently warned and I'm quoting Jim when you start using entertainment values to decide whether to cover major public events, you start down the road toward an uninformed electorate.

Marvin Kalb: Chris Bury.

Chris Bury: I'm actually sitting in for my boss and colleague, Ted Koppel, who would have loved to have been here today except he had some real news to cover. He was on the trail. I think it's safe to assume that the reason Nightline was invited to participate in this panel in the first place is because of the decision Ted Koppel made in 1996 to leave the Republican Convention in San Diego. And there were basically two reasons for that, one general and one very specific. The general reason is that by 1996 it had become abundantly clear that the conventions were no longer about choosing candidates. They were about selling the candidates.

And the second reason is a specific one, which is a problem that promised certain access before the convention with the vicinity once the convention began. And it became clear that the Dole campaign, which of course was widely shown, did not want to risk the possibility of news breaking out where he interviewed with Ted Koppel at 11:30. So the anchorman went home. But his children obeyed and the rest of us stayed with a team of producers and camera crews.

In San Diego we were able to produce free enterprise stories. One night Nightline was taken up by an in-depth study of the TWA 800 crash, which that night happened to be the most important story. We repeated that motto in Chicago for the Democratic Convention. The anchorman stayed in Washington. Myself and a team of producers and camera crews were able to get four stories in that week. One thanks to the help of Dick Morris.

But the point is that at one moment in history having the anchorman on the scene signifies something special and important. That's not the case with conventions anymore. Koppel anchored Friday from the road with Governor Bush and Dick Cheney. He recently anchored from Moscow and Kosovo. When there's something terribly important to run, there's no question the anchorman signifies something special.

But as Andrew was saying, the conventions have changed and television has changed. The conventions are not the most newsworthy part of the nominating process and haven't been for a long time. And as Andrew mentioned as well, we have a host of media out there. You've got Internet Alley, you've got the cable channels, you've got Comedy Central, you've got MTV with a full cast out here. There are more media here covering more stories and more information is more widely available to more Americans on this convention than at any time in history. So I think to argue that democracy has somehow suffered because television doesn't focus on every funny ad in the convention hall is somewhat immaterial. It boils down to the media. If there is a great story here, we'll cover it and put it on the air. If something else is more important that day, we won't. It's editorial responsibility and I think that's what our viewers expect.

Marvin Kalb: Okay. Jim Nicholson.

Jim Nicholson: Thank you, Marvin. Thank you for having me on this panel and thanks to the City of Philadelphia for having us here in your great city. Thanks to my friend, Ed Rendell, who is quite responsible for selling the City of Philadelphia to the Republican Party. We are delighted to be back here. It's the first convention we ever had the first convention we ever had was here. It was in 1856. I like to believe it was with David Brinkley even on the second day.

That convention, that party, then came together, you'll see, because of freedom and liberty. Our priorities were equality of all people and you'll continue to hear that and you'll hear a lot about that this week at this convention, which we're here to talk about this morning.

I think to examine the subject about the coverage of the convention, it seems to me that we should start with the question of just how important are the conventions themselves. Not how important are they to the news media. Not how important are they to party officials like me or Ed. But how important are they to the American people, the voters. And the answer, I think, may surprise some of you.

The University of Michigan's National Election Studies Division has been studying this issue for a long time. And their studies show that on average that is an average from 1952 forward that 22% of the voters decide how to vote based on their observation of the political conventions. Over one out of five. That suggests to me that these conventions are pretty important.

In 1988 29% of the voters decided not to cast their ballot during the convention. For certain demographic groups these statistics are even more scathing, more important. Among the poorest Americans the lowest 16% of income on the average of 35% decided not to cast their votes at the conventions over the last five elections. Among women 36% did this. For blacks the figure is 37%.

For independents the self-described apoliticals the swing vote, the figure is 36%. With that much at stake with a fifth of the vote at stake and a third of the key constituencies like blacks and women it suggests to me that substantial prime time coverage of the conventions is too important to be left to those Americas who can afford cable or the Internet. And I welcome the fine coverage that we've received on Fox and on MSNBC and on CNN and on C-SPAN. And I hope all of you will take a look at our own Internet Alley and the coverage that we ourselves, the party, is giving this. And you can find that at gop.org.

But the truth is there really is digital divide. And it's primarily, unfortunately, a racial one. About 30% of white Americans have Internet access. About 36% of people of Asian descent. But only 11% of blacks and only about 12% of Hispanics. Then there is for us, I think, a digital divide, but there's also what I call cable chasm. Even today as we've been talking about here this morning, cable reaches only about a third to 70% of the American households. Satellite dishes penetrate only 8%.

So those circumstances, I think, make a compelling case for a continuation of need for a substantial amount of prime time broadcast network coverage for party conventions. And for the networks that's really good news. Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports this week probably as many people will watch this convention here in Philadelphia as will watch the Olympics in Sydney. Thank you.

Marvin Kalb: Ed Rendell.

Edward G. Rendell: Hello, everyone. I want to thank Jim for his kind words. Jim, I promised when we got the convention that I would wear elephant ties all through the convention. Now, when I did that, I didn't know that I was going to be chairman of the Democratic Party.

So Jim of course asked me where my elephant tie was today and I, being a lawyer, reminded him the convention doesn't start until tomorrow. And tomorrow we will see where the elephant tie is.

Edward G. Rendell: I love being on these panels because it's the only time Jim and I get to agree on so much. I think that this is right on. I think the networks' decision is flat out unconscionable. Regardless of who watches and why, the networks are one of the prime focuses in the lives of most Americans. We all deprave the fact that Americans are losing touch with the political process. They're tuning out. They don't think it's relevant. They don't think it's important. But when the three major networks and still most of us even we know when those three main networks say it's not important, we're not even covering it on one night, what message does that give to the American people?

I would submit that the networks ought to cover four hours a night, four times a week for both conventions and if they lose money, they ought to take their loss. I think it's important

Edward G. Rendell: As Marvin pointed out, if the networks cover it, there will be less other options and more people will watch. I don't think that's a bad result.

But having said that, I want to suggest something to them. In my seven months as chairman, I have become increasingly depressed about the way we all disseminate information to voters and the way voters are forced to make their choice. And I think the networks and for that matter all the networks; not just the three major networks, but the five or six networks that we have in the country should step out aggressively and say we're going to cover four hours, gentlemen and ladies of the two parties, but we're going to cover it our way. So if you want us to cover it, we're going to have each night a one hour discussion on four major planks of the platform. You can pick two or three representatives that you want to sit down with our people in a studio or off of it, at a convention hall, and we will discuss the topic. And we're going to come at you. We're going to ask Jim why in the Republican platform abortion isn't legal for rape and incest. We're going to ask the Democrats why we're going to come at you. We're going to go after you. We're going to take

Edward G. Rendell: In other words, raise the level. You're the networks. You can do this. I have a suggestion. I'm going to lay it out there for you and probably all major newspapers will object. But we want the pieces to say that the six major networks should get together on Labor Day commission of hope done by a poll in the that doesn't work for the Republicans and doesn't work for the Democrats and ask the American people what the major issues are in their minds facing the country. Rank the top six. Then the six networks should announce that for the six weeks preceding the election in the same order of importance that the American people chose on Labor Day we're going to have 90-minute debates between the candidates on one issue each week. And we're going to have them whether the candidate shows up or not. So if one candidate chooses to not show up, we're going to let the other candidate answer our questions for 90 minutes. Force democracy. You have the power to be an enormous force for democracy and you're squandering it.

Tom Brokaw: The issue on the minds of voters is education. For three months NBC has been trying to get George W. Bush and Al Gore in a debate on NBC not on MSNBC on-the-air. We offered to do it in the spring. We offered to do it in the summer. We offered to do it again in the fall.

Edward G. Rendell: I don't think that it's fair to get into the fact

Tom Brokaw: Oh, wait a minute

Edward G. Rendell: It's fair to get into the fact of why George Bush won't debate almost anywhere. But having said that

I'm only kidding, Marvin. I'm only kidding.

But having said that, as I said, if all of you say, hey, guys, this is it. We're going to have these debates. Come if you'd like. Don't come if you'd like. This is a test of fairness. Reach the test of fairness. You force the candidate to come.

The Counsel on Foreign Relations at CNN has made the same offer on foreign policy. On one single debate on foreign policy. We're not going to get that on this election. But just decide that we're going to do it next time out. The American people would be excited because on Labor Day they would choose the topics.

Marvin Kalb: I mean, these are wonderful issues, but they're a little ahead of us by a month or two. I want to switch to the conventions.

Andrew Heyward, play a game with me if you would, please. Was there ever a time when you at CBS, thinking through your coverage plans for this convention, ever entertained the possibility of doing it as you did at CBS 20 years ago, gavel-to-gavel, running the risk that the ratings would be low you knew that but you would be providing an important public service?

Andrew Heyward: There was never a time. The fact is we all walked away from San Diego and Chicago in 1996 saying it's never going to be even this way again. And this is not some corporate decision. It was seasoned political journalists at CBS News and a lot of our colleagues at the networks also agree. Walter Cronkite was recently interviewed by Dan for his 50 years on the air at CBS. He said he thought Dan ought to lead a team of reporters and do a quick summary of the evening and then carry the acceptance speech. Walter Cronkite.

With all respect to the chairman, you're listening to the producers of the TV show frustrated that the networks aren't just going to lap it up and project it to the American public and the irony is that all of the news and suspense and newsworthiness almost all has been bled out deliberately and the argument is we can do that and now it's up to you on what you should do to make sure that our message gets out.

The other side of it is, as Chairman Rendell said, no, no, be robust about that and have a talk show. Exactly as you've said, we should cover the election process robustly. We should ask our questions, ultimately force them to carry the debates. But the fact is that there are plenty of blazes along the trail to learn about what the candidates have to say and we'll carry the acceptance speech. And, ironically, by devoting this many resources to the conventions, we'd actually be doing less rigid reporting on convention campaigns than we do

Marvin Kalb: Andrew, you had mentioned before that these editorial decisions were reached by seasoned journalists. There are seasoned journalists at CNN who have reached a totally different decision.

What I would like to ask this is kind of interesting. Why is it that CNN, a cable news operation, will reach one decision to go all out on its coverage and all over-the-air, whatever they call it CBS, NBC, ABC come to a totally different decision? What is at the heart of the decision?

Judy Woodruff: The one thing for us and I hear him saying they never considered it. We never considered other we never considered anything other than covering these conventions from start to finish. Now

Marvin Kalb: But I'm asking why.

Judy Woodruff: Why? Because for all the reasons I've said. They're important. The election matters. Whether there's news at this convention or not, this is a coming together of all the people who believe in the Republican Party, who believe in their candidate, who may have nuances and differences and more among them. It's up to us to translate that to the American people in a way that they can understand. For us there was no there was no thought that we could do anything other than be here from start to finish. That's who we are. That's what CNN has done. We are a news network.

Marvin Kalb: Why is it that news anchors

Tom Brokaw: MSNBC is a division of NBC News. And we're going to be here hour for hour, moment to moment with CNN doing every bit as much coverage as they are. And we'll have a mix on-the-air with NBC News. We're going to be covering the president's speech. We'll be covering the nominees' speech of the vice president and the president. We'll be doing additional coverage around it on the evening news. We've moved everything around. There's going to be a real mix. But on MSNBC, which is our cable news outfit which is very much like CNN in fact, I like to think of it as a little career

Tom Brokaw: The point is that we have here a real synergy between all of our parts now that didn't exist before when we didn't have MSNBC. You'll also see coverage on CNBC that is going to be skewed to the financial questions that are going to be raised by this.

Marvin Kalb: I anticipated your answer and looked up the ratings on all of the cable news operations: CNN, MSNBC, and added PBS as well. Add all of them up and they don't even get to a third of what NBC produces on a bad night. So it would seem to me and I'm really grateful for this whole discussion isn't there then an additional responsibility that you have? Rather than lay it all on the modernization of the industry now technologically speaking, what about the extra responsibility that someone like you have, Andrew, Chris, people who are at the networks? I've seen you cover this and your eyes glisten with excitement on politics. Why not be able to do that on network

Tom Brokaw: The last couple of these conventions the last couple of times wasn't as exciting because they tied it to a great moment there is no debate on the floor anymore or on the platform. With all due respect to the two journalists that are here tonight, they've shrugged us up, they've framed it of any passion. They've made sure that it's just exactly what the candidates want. We don't even have the debate that we did in 1980 in Detroit about who was going to be the vice presidential nominee that night. The issues have all been have all been worked out very much in advance and put out there very much like a commercial.

Now, we'll cover those in ways that people will be able to get access to them both on the network and on MSNBC. There's no question about that. There's going to be as Chris said, there's going to be an enormous opportunity for the American public greater than its ever had before as it looks out into this vast new universe, now that its been told where to find it, to find out what's going on here and give an hour.

Judy Woodruff: The parties

Chris Bury: And the slicker these television shows have become, the more the audience turns off. Between '92 and '96 the networks saw basically a 25% decline in audience. So as the parties begin producing television shows, the viewers don't think they're terribly interested in television shows and they don't watch. The primary function of the convention is to provide a close convention ballot for the nominees. But we're under no news obligation to inflate that

Marvin Kalb: But there is a public service obligation that is in legislation and that seems to me to be in the spirit of American democracy. I would like to

Tom Brokaw: Well

Marvin Kalb: Tom, let me say something. Is there not and I address this to Jim and Ed a legislative responsibility or some larger social responsibility that you feel the networks have to provide more coverage?

Jim Nicholson: Well, I'd like to emphasize the social responsibility and there's moral responsibility. I think I mean, there are publicly owned airwaves that are licensed. But if you accept the premise that a lot of people have made up their mind based on what they observe at these conventions, that's pretty important. And everything doesn't have to be news, Andy, I don't think. Some of it can be information. And how often do Americans get to hear someone give a full-length speech on prime time television? How often do they get to hear General Powell talk about connecting service and voluntaryism or Senator McCain talk about the national defense and the right to national security. Hardly ever, if ever. They certainly don't, even in the presidential debates, get to hear the candidates give a prolonged speech on their position as they do at the convention. That's maybe not news. But it's pretty important information. And I don't think that asking the networks to do what I call a national town hall meeting on the surface four nights out of every four years is asking too much.

Marvin Kalb: Ed Rendell.

Edward G. Rendell: I agree with you. Absolutely.

Marvin Kalb: Is there is there just to clear this up. Is there a legislative responsibility that no matter how you interpret public service, it's at least arguable that not enough is being presented?

Edward G. Rendell: Well, I don't think that the legislative responsibility is clearly enough defined that you could win that case in court. But I agree with Jim. I think it's a social responsibility.

I also want to say that there are still some things happening that are very important and have a level of conflict and that you still don't cover.

Jim, the Republican Party voted down a recommendation of a task force that had been set up to change the primary along the level of some recommendations polled in the Delaware ballot. We opted out and just took a pass, which I'm really happy with

Marvin Kalb: Senator Brock is right there

Edward G. Rendell: Right. and did nothing. And did nothing. And did nothing. Those are crucial issues. And I think that almost every American depraves the way the primaries are set up in the front row today. I think the vast majority of Americans would like to see change. I think Jim's party made an effort with respect to Chairman Brock. I felt the Secretary of State's plan was slightly superior but, regardless, they made a good faith effort. It was a terrific step forward.

And, Jim, I don't recall seeing a whole lot of coverage, certainly nothing gavel-to-gavel, within these discussions. That was very important to the process.

Jim Nicholson: It was on C-SPAN.

Edward G. Rendell: It was on C-SPAN. God bless C-SPAN. But that was very important part of the presidential process and everybody would want it.

Judy Woodruff: I just want to make a quick point. I think the parties don't need to be so afraid of having controversy out there. In your own Republican Party it wasn't so long ago; in the last couple of weeks you had two kinds. You had Dick Armey and Billy Tauzin traveling around the country holding meetings in communities all over the country maybe 20, 30 or so where they debated value added tax, national sales tax, these crucial questions. They debated it. It's healthy for the parties to talk about the disagreements. It's completely healthy. Air your differences. Get them out there. I think it makes you stronger rather than...

Marvin Kalb: What is your response to that?

Jim Nicholson: Well, I think that we'll do it. And you will see Dick Cheney and you will see Governor Bush lay out the agenda of the Republican Party to the American people. And you rarely get a chance to see or hear that on television. Those are bold, positive reform proposals that are fraught with controversy. The other party takes exception to it too strongly. This, I think, is what a convention is for. It's to convey information. And if you decide that to be controversial, you're going have a chance to see the commentary. And, certainly, the commentary will be the analysts of the network. But to have the chance as citizens to see it laid out I think is very important.

Edward G. Rendell: I would just add if you're worried about the information the infomercial nature of the conventions and I think that's politically important again, use the power that you have to set some of the ground rules and inject some kind of views about having you're terrific reporters. I've done Judy's show and Judy is great when it comes to questions and followup questions. Ask those questions without the platform. You make that rule.

Tom, I heard you said your eyes don't sparkle anymore. But if you got a chance to talk to Governor Thompson or even Carl Rogan about things that are on the platform and you really toss them out to them, I think that would be a get the voters

Tom Brokaw: I'm going to be doing that on MSNBC. The fact is that if it were left to me, obviously because of my interest in this subject and I've devoted my entire life to it, yeah, I'd improve this section as well.

But there is something that is left out of all this discussion. There is the suggestion here that the American people are out there wandering around in some kind of intellectual wasteland unable to make a decision about what's of interest to them and how they're going to find their way and where they would see coverage of what was going on in the convention. And the whole public service question that we put before them would become like state television. You could only get one thing, which would be wall-to-wall convention coverage for the week on all the networks. And they've plainly made it clear that they would like to have more choices and they'll have more choices this time between convention coverage in a variety of ways a greater variety of ways than it has in the past, by the way on this convention. And they'll also be able to have some entertainment.

There also was a suggestion from this panel that those important speeches that you're talking about are not going to be covered. They are going to be covered. The president's speech will be covered. The vice-president nominee's speech will be covered. The presidential nominee's speech will be covered. There will be other venues for the coverage of this during the course of the week over the air as well as on all the cable and Internet coverage.

Marvin Kalb: Tom, you suggested a moment ago that whatever it is that the parties put out at the convention is really what it is that you will then carry is what you're saying; that as newsmen you don't carry it what I'm getting at, I think, is a little different. Help me out here. That why not use the time that you have not necessarily carry what it is that Jim and Ed had said but use the time in a creative way using the best resources of NBC News to dig into aspects of American Politics that the American people might find interesting?

Chris Bury: Absolutely.

Judy Woodruff: That's what we are doing. That's what we're using this whole week for.

Marvin Kalb: So what we end up saying is this true? That what we end up saying now is that as far as the big networks are concerned, you'll do the big speeches and just allow the cable operations to do everything else?

Chris Bury: You know, this is a process that runs along and continues. It starts the year before the election at the time of the primary and goes on to the Iowa/New Hampshire primaries and debates. And we've covered every step of the process along the way. The conventions are the one part of that continuum. The pickup began after the conventions and the Labor Day speeches and more debates

Marvin Kalb: The question that I asked is one part of the continuum it is that theoretically, but it's an extraordinarily important part.

Chris Bury: It's not as important as it once was.

Marvin Kalb: If the statistics that Jim presented were accurate and I have no reason to think they're not accurate. If those statistics are accurate, 22% of the American people decide at convention time whom they're going to vote for?

Chris Bury: One of the things that's lost in this discussion is that citizenship requires some effort. Citizenship requires paying attention. As journalists, our job is not to worry about the moment in history when they tuned in. Our job is to cover the story from beginning to end. That's what we're here for.

Marvin Kalb: There was an old argument in journalism which you all are very, very familiar with and it goes back to one that Walter Lipmann and John Dewey had about whether the responsibility of a good journalist is to give the American people what it is that they think the American people need to be good citizens or whether we give the American people what it is that they like because it's fun.

Andrew Heyward: Well, it's pretty obvious that that argument continues in every group in America. And, again, as Tom pointed out a second ago, there is going to be substantial coverage over the air of this convention. Certainly, plenty of people from the University of Michigan survey that you ran all have general basic I think the moral tone needs to be taken out of the discussion. Because, once again, the networks are a symbol of some much bigger things that are happening

Marvin Kalb: What do you think are the bigger things?

Andrew Heyward: I was about to say the bigger thing is that the American public at the dawn of a new century is almost actively disengaging from the political process; voter turn-out issues, the people reading about current events in the media and current events in school. The problem with civics is something that's declining rapidly and a lot of people in the room would say alarmingly in this country. And I think it's convenient and it's tangible to say network coverage of conventions or the changing network coverage of conventions is somehow responsible for this. Baloney. I think you have to look at a much more deeply-rooted cause of it including mass lead journalism, including certainly what the parties have done by their own admission by changing the convention over the years, including the educational system, including the changing nature of government, including the sanitation of politics and with overall television preference. We end up with the blind leading the blind. It's all part of work. To somehow suggest that the networks are villains who are abdicating their responsibility to the public, even if it's debateable

Marvin Kalb: It's a fair point.

Edward G. Rendell: I think everything that was said that you said is absolutely right. But I still don't think that this is their responsibility I still don't think it's misdirecting their responsibility for eight nights every four years. We don't need Millionaire. We don't need Survivor. We don't need Big Brother. We need to try to get the American people's attention.

And I'll tell you, it doesn't have to be planned. I'd love to see Tom Brokaw and Inouye going over the abortion issue.

Judy Woodruff: But you all

Tom Brokaw: We can expect in Los Angeles then for you to hold out the process and (inaudible) We don't have anything to say about what happens on that convention floor, that there will be

Edward G. Rendell: Of course not. Of course not. But, on the other hand you said we've asked that you give an additional hour on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night to see the people to discuss our best supporters. The topic would see what it stands for, what the issues are, and how they stand. If they don't know, it's okay. You will know people where you choose to go.

Jim Nicholson: I think, Tom, you said that you think the American people are not wandering around out there in a wasteland. But Tom had started off by saying as important as conventions are (Inaudible.) They are. And they have a right, but if you're concerned about that as an American, concerned about the strength of our democracy to this political process, this two party system, then you as a network personality or network owner or shareholder, I think, ought to feel an obligation about that to try to cure that wasteland. We know one of the ways you inform the listeners is to talk about it.

Ed put his plug in and now I'll put one in. When I became chairman of this party three and a half years ago, we carried Democrats on the issue of education 21 points. Today we're even with Democrats because, one, we've put up where a very program of education in public schools but is, two, is that we talked about it all the time. So I think that maybe if you are sincere in downplaying the significance of the networks, it's really important as the reasons that I named. And I think if you would put it out there, more people would come and watch it.

Tom Brokaw: Well, once Elian went home, there's been no other subject that has gotten more attention Monday through Friday, Saturday through Sunday

Andrew Heyward: Absolutely.

Tom Brokaw: beginning 7:00 in the morning all the way through the evening than the presidential race and presidential politics. So that people don't know when this convention is, not to be held this next week, is not because we have attempted to keep the information from them.

Marvin Kalb: That's an interesting point. But it is a fact and Andrew started to answer that question because if it is a larger thing than the networks and perhaps you may be right. But if it is larger and it does involve underlining politically associated causes, why do you think that is happening? Why if the numbers are right, why this growing distance?

Tom Brokaw: I think there are two big reasons why there is an absence of the conventions this summer. First of all, they know who the nominees are and they were much more interested during the primary process. There were a record number of debates during that time. People heard these discussions before.

Secondly, we all know that I and others of the panel Senator Ed Joyner has done I think an absolutely necessary and in-depth study on this growing schism between the federal government and where the voters are. It's less true on the local end in the local and state level. Voters are much more associated with what's going on in their interest there.

But the big issue right now in this country is not which of these two people will be president. It's how can I enjoy these good times. I have never witnessed anything quite like this in my life as I go across the country and ask people what their concerns are. They'll talk about education and they'll talk about some of these other issues. But for the most part they're saying, man, I can't remember when there was such good times, such prosperity. And they're enjoying that and they're not much engaged in what is going on at the national level

Judy Woodruff: I think along with that

Chris Bury: That's important for another reason, though. There is a certain arrogance from some of these studies which suggest that voters who aren't as informed as it was become there's some belligerence.

Marvin Kalb: That's the core thing.

Chris Bury: Tom is exactly right. The country is at peace. There's enormous prosperity. The candidates to a lot of people are relatively planned. There's no constitutional amendment which would force them to pay more than a lot of attention.

Judy Woodruff: All the more reason and there is nothing wrong with that. All the more reason that we have a responsibility to remind them why this election matters. It matters.

Tom Brokaw: I mean, we have to keep coming back to that point. It's not as if this community broadcasts in a vacuum, that we're going to seal off Philadelphia in some kind of a big bubble and we're only going to do this for ourselves. All across the country there's going to be an enormous awareness of what's going on.

One other thing about people in terms of their interest in these individual parties. These two chairmen know the rising tide of the American electorate is not identified as Republican or as Democrat. They're identified as Independents. They don't feel as connected to these two parties as they once did. And that's where the battle ground is.

Jim Nicholson: I agree with that. And that's all the more reason why we need to publicly inform them.

Marvin Kalb: I would love to take about two or three questions from the audience, but I can't see anybody out there because of the lights. But if two or three people wanted to come up, there's a mike right up front. Identify yourself with a question and direct it to somebody.

Audience Member: I'm Max Gordon of the Boston Globe. I'd like to ask this of the party chairman even though it's a historical question before your time in office. It was mentioned earlier that there are 15,000 journalists here and I'm wondering if that's part of the problem. Not that we're going to go away. The last story they took away from us at these conventions was the vice presidential nominee unveiling of the nominee. It's getting farther and farther in advance of the convention. Is that because of the Quayle announcement that was not probably the finest hour of the Republican Party or the media for that matter that you just don't want to do that in front of 15,000 journalists? I'm just interested in your perspective on that.

Marvin Kalb: I think that would go more to Jim.

Jim Nicholson: I'd like to say it's very scientific and sophisticated. But I will say that a lot of it came out based on schedules and the movement that Governor Bush is on coming into Philadelphia changed the schedule. I mean, there was some real practical things involved in that and I don't think it had anything to do with Quayle.

Edward G. Rendell: Although I would say I think it had something to do with the desire of both parties to stretch the ballots from the four-day ballots to the ten-day ballots. And you can see that the Republicans have done that wisely and it's an amazing phenomenon. CNN had polled half the ballots and yet had Mr. Cheyney's negatives were fairly high. But, nonetheless, they had the ballots.

Jim Nicholson: This is not the first time that this subject has been looked at. The most vocal network executive in regard to this issue at the '84 convention, Republican Convention in Dallas and after the EA conventions it was quite critical. And the former Democratic Convention Chairman Chuck Mannerheim had a group that looked at the nominating conventions in some great detail for about six to eight months and came up with a report. We concurred and had an interest in that.

We fundamentally agreed. We were fortunate in having to the national chair former chairman Marvin Bradley and late Republican Chairman Lee Atwater agree that the parties would be willing to cut the conventions to three days and three nights; in other words, give back to the national networks two or three hours per night for each convention. All we asked for was that one hour in September and one hour in October that nominees of the party back to back would have a half hour each to talk to the American people. No ads. They'd have to be on camera and tell the American people why they ought to be elected president of the United States. There was a deafening silence for that offer given to the networks. Now, I'm just wondering. You guys kind of skipped around this. There were a lot of time spent on network television talking about money and politics. Isn't it true that what we're really talking about here as the difference between the cable networks and the commercial networks is one big dollar sign? It's money.

Andrew Heyward: Last I checked, CNN was not a non profit organization. I'm not going to oppose trying to keep revenue profits CNN makes. It's a news channel that manages God forbid a Concorde crashes next week that would repeat on air CNN (inaudible). That's the structure of the power. If I were working with CNN, then of course I would be saying probably what Judy has said. I said earlier I don't believe the negotiations I'm aware of I don't think your comment was in regard to a business. I'm staking my confidence in television. I don't think we should be conspiring or colluding with the parties to figure out how to make this an event that more people will watch. I think the parties should do what they believe is right from their point of view and we should do what we think is right. That's how democracy works. That's how democracy works. What's this worry about? Was it my imagination or was there more applause when the chairman talked

Marvin Kalb: We'll go here.

Audience Member: Hi. I'm Beth Sehoto (phonetic) and I work for the local public broadcasting station in Philadelphia and I would just like to make a comment that I do believe there is one (inaudible) PBS and CBS is carrying in prime time coverage of the convention with Jim Lehrer and also talking about local coverage but

Marvin Kalb: I can't hear you.

Edward G. Rendell: I hear you.

Audience Member: But I think that something that is missing from this discussion is broadcasting.

Audience Member: And I wanted it is not a question; it's a comment that thank you.

Edward G. Rendell: And you're right. And I think Chris mentioned that and Marvin and Judy. The problem is go back to Marvin's summary. If you put everything together including PBS and God bless PBS people don't watch anything other than networks. It's a fraction of what the networks put on Millionaire, put on Survivor, and put on Big Brother and we're hooked. We're hooked. Maybe we shouldn't be, but we're hooked.

Marvin Kalb: Okay. To conclude, I would like to ask everyone on the panel to put on a scholar's cap and I mean, we do have a problem regardless of how this gets defined and elaborated. The problem exists. And the problem is a larger one I agree with that completely than network coverage. It does involve the nature at this particular point of the quality of the American politics. I know I'm throwing this at you and I didn't alert you in advance. But think about it for a second. What can we do? Is there something you can do as a network anchor, as a politician, to come together to improve the quality of our democracy?

Tom, would you like to start us on that or that's not fair?

Tom Brokaw: Well

Marvin Kalb: You can be brief but

Tom Brokaw: You know, I've thought about this a lot and I actually wrote about this when I gave a speech for the Center about what I thought we should do. I think there ought to be more dialogue within the party within the two parties about on these occasions when they have national conventions. I think Jim said this is the national town hall. It's not really a town hall because there's not much dialogue that goes on in that convention hall. It's one way. If there were a town hall, there would be a real spirited debate on the floor and there would be an examination on the issues that come before this convention and those candidates and they would be examined not only by us but also by the people who come from around us. So I think that the parties have to look at an area and I think the process is now scattered across the calender. We don't go to the primaries and have this long battle period. Then we hit the summer.

People aren't paying a lot of attention. And we frame the networks of any kind of conventions of any suspense. For our part I agree. I think that we should be doing more imaginative programming. But we have gone to the candidates and offered them debate platforms. And they've turned us down in part because of the Commission on Presidential Debates which has cornered that franchise now and the candidates are saying, oh, we've got to go there and if we don't have a controlled unit, who will appear on those debates that's run by that commission? So that there are lots of elements here.

And then the other thing that was not talked about at this convention is we all know that these are organized for the good of the City of Philadelphia, which is great. It's great for George W. Bush and for Dick Cheney and the party and it's one hell of a long week-long fund-raising party that is going to be going on all over this city. And my suggestion is that as the country looks at all that, they don't seem connected to it. All the very fancy cocktail parties and the ships that are in place and all the things that are going on, they say that's not where I live, so they don't feel as connected to conventions as they once did when they had the roll call and you didn't know who they are, when you had people arguing about other points of the platform; not on the committee on Friday or Saturday nights but on the floor of the convention.

Marvin Kalb: Andrew.

Andrew Heyward: I think we are suffering from a lack of authenticity regarding public life. That applies to networks and politicians as well. I think the audience is very sophisticated in recognizing that. Too much of what we do is too packaged. Too much of what politicians do is packaged. There are attempts by politicians to hone down differences that would be substantially interesting if they were properly examined. The audience would have debate on that and it is good because it is more free-wheeling and more spontaneous. I think you're absolutely right. Conflict is educational and I think it should be encouraged not for entertainment value but because it does help illuminate these things.

I think we're also going into a century where they're talking about the big story is not sexy pardon the expression. The story is can the promise of the American community share in the whole experience. That's not as compelling as the Cold War or Watergate or the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam. The fact is that we are at a time when people can afford to disengage. And I think if the politicians engaged on the issues that they do care about professionally including education and safety and health, then there would be more interest. And it also happens also look to our schools. It's possible to go through high school and college without the aid of current events anymore. That wasn't the case when we were growing up. We were penalized for not all these things I think not one institution can change it. I think we have lost to some degree it's not surprising the public which despite the media has turned away not only from watching news to some degree even CNN but also from politics.

Marvin Kalb: Judy?

Judy Woodruff: Well, just without running the risk of going on and on about things I think we've all said and I think what we've given a lot of thought to, the responsibility for making it more relevant, more real to people's lives to all of us lie. It lies with the voters, it lies with the news media, and certainly it lies with the political parties and the candidates. We in the news media can't do anything to make the parties or candidates do anything different. If what we would love to see them do, though, is have the kind of open debate, have debates in every region of the country. Not in every state. That's not necessary. But in every part of the country. Have the candidates out there talking about the issues that matter. Don't be so afraid of conflict. And all of us, including us in the media, can keep going back to the viewers and voters and readers and say, What is it that you want from us? What more do you want to know? We do need to be responsive. We need to be the educators and the informers. But we also need to keep listening to them. And in the meantime, we have to do what we're doing and that is to cover it and cover it hard and cover it analytically but cover it.

Marvin Kalb: Thank you. Chris Bury.

Chris Bury: I'm not quite so pessimistic. In 1948 here in Philadelphia for the first time live television pictures would view back to a number of stations. This time at this convention we're seeing it go on another era, the Internet era. And I think it strikes more with politics in a very democratic sort of way. Because it's a two-way medium. You can whether you're in the game industry or you are a resident of Michigan and want to find out what the Michigan delegation is doing, you now have a way to do that in an interactive way. That's to continue to transform democracy and make a statement that expands the audience but at the same time there is no shortage of very specific political information out there for those who choose to use it. I think that is a tremendously optimistic note and I think some of the hand wringing may be misplaced.

Marvin Kalb: Thank you very much, Chris. Jim Nicholson?

Jim Nicholson: I too am generally optimistic. I've traveled around this country. This democracy is still in good shape. But I think everybody in this room and those of us who have taken on a leadership position have a responsibility to try to strengthen it and I think we have to key in on the fact that things don't always have to be news and that information is important. Share the feeling of some obligation. I'm all for it. I am a businessman. I'm a Republican.

But I think that does come with a sense of duty. And I think that's important.

Secondly, I would say that I think it's time we wrote that story aimed at South Dakota. These conventions are a lot of things. Two nights ago we dedicated a mural to the City of Philadelphia, The Underground Railroad, which played a significant role in our history. We're trying to leave this City greater than when we got here. And I thank all of you for putting on this important forum.

Marvin Kalb: Thank you.

Edward G. Rendell: I sort of said it at the beginning. Number one, I think the networks should become more aggressive and force the issue. If you're not happy with the product that's being put on, again offer time but offer time in a way that is more of a town meeting that Tom talked about.

I certainly agree with Chris and Andrew that this is just one conventions are one part of the process. And I really believe that we ought to give back to the idea of the six debates let the American people choose what are the issues important to them and then let's take eight minutes to each issue, six weeks in a row going up to the week of the election. And I think it would do an enormous service to the process. Spend 90 minutes on the topic. There is no where to hide. You'll find out a lot about the candidates: what they know, what they believe in, and what they stand for. And the six networks could make it happen. Absolutely could make it happen.

Judy Woodruff: CNN would love to do that.

Edward G. Rendell: Are you positive?

Marvin Kalb: We had an idea of the Shorenstein Center (inaudible) spending time, whether it be an hour or half hour, on one subject.

Edward G. Rendell: And let the American people decide which subject.

Marvin Kalb: You're almost guaranteed the depth that is required. In two weeks in Los Angeles the Shorenstein Center will be sponsoring another one of these discussions that we'll be picking up, which is essentially the impact of all of this the impact of all of the high new technology and we'll be talking about that on the quality of democracy. We'll be talking about that in two weeks. I'd like to thank our panelists.

Marvin Kalb: And you've been terrific. Walter Shorenstein, again, thank you very much.


The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.

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