Thursday, July 29, 2004

From Jerry Springer to Triumph the Insult Comic: My DNC Convention (Part 1)

And so at 1:45am on Thursday evening, long after Kerry's big speech which I watched at the News Media center because the fire marshall disallowed new entries to the Fleet Center at 8pm - we wandered to MSNBC's outdoor set at Fanueil Hall. Joe Scarborough, the only Republican on set (but also the mediator) was getting heckled like mad and he'd had enough. At a commercial break he turned violently around and lashed out at the jeering crowd: "I can't hear who I'm interviewing! Nobody wants to hear what you drunks have to say, they want to hear what (his interview subject) has to say!" It was great to see openly the off-camera nasty side of a nasty former politician.

Todd and I were going to then quit the set and go back to the bars when Robert Smigel and his hand-puppet Triumph the insult comic walked by - he was on his way to the MSNBC set. Life was grand. I didn't hear all of what Triumph said but I know he commented that he enjoyed sniffing Teresa Heinz Kerry's heiney and would like to try all 57 varieties of sexual position with her.

Then Joe Trippi (Howard Dean's erstwhile maverick campaign manager), bumped from his seat for the Triumph segment, slumped to the barricade where I was standing and groused to a spectator "Lost my seat to a hand-puppet." Whoa, Joe, how dare ye! That hand-puppet means more to people than you ever will. That is the funniest, most scatological hand-puppet of all time and you will show some respect! So I called out to Trippi (5 feet away from me): "Joe, you wouldn't have lost your seat to the hand-puppet if you had won the primary!" Trippi stopped, and looked back at me like I had broken his poor maverick campagin manager heart, then he sneered at me severely in anger.

Oh, come on Tripster, Dean had to go. This all worked out for the best. The Democrats got an electable candidate and you've accomplished your dream of becoming a cable television news talking-head hack...

I'll return later to the specifics of the wacky two days of the convention we covered, but something general first.

Yes, this convention was fanatically micro-managed and heavy-handedly produced. The Kerry managers over-played the unity card and stifled anti-war sentiment in the party. Not one anti-war speaker or anti-war statement was uttered during Prime Time television covered by the 4 major networks.

Yet, at the same time, the DNC let me and Todd, two nobodies with a newsletter, cover the events fully, videotape everything, and do just about whatever we wanted in and around the convention hall and at related Dem activities. I got to the floor of the convention hall, into every seminar, every speaker, and everywhere I went I asked everybody anything I wanted. I pushed the envelope, made people uncomfortable, but no one ever questioned what I was doing. I was given plenty of access.

So why is the DNC letting bloggers sniff into the bowels of the party while presenting this homogenized face to the networks? It's not because bloggers and indie media aren't noticed - they/we have an audience of millions. A blogger I met, Dailykos, says he averages 150,000 hits a day. So here's how I explain the contradiction: the swing-state undecided voters are what the whole dog-and-pony, razzle-dazzle, I love God, we-are-not-pussies-on-defense, flags everywhere production is about. These undecided voters are hapless people, they get their news from network TV and need to be catered to in this way or the party wouldn't do it. They haven't figured out by now that W is a disaster. They don't understand that a party doesn't have to be totally "unified" to be competent. They watch every episode of "Fear Factor." These undecided voters also aren't going to get their media from left, or even right leaning, media. The DNC knows that by letting us in, they just give us a chance to build buzz for the event, get people who they might not reach otherwise interested, but most importantly energize those who they feel are already in their pocket. If we air some dissent to our audience, they can deal...

However, as I'll discuss more in upcoming posts, the party hacks are trained to be good and proper robots with what they say at all times. No matter what you ask them (and I tried everything as you'll see in the video) they will stick to their talking points even if it makes no sense. I asked one Dem staffer why the Democrats were so overjoyed that Reagan was dead and he just very seriously gave me the Dem talking points on Reagan's death. They infuse these talking points in the delegates, so that almost all of those I spoke to when I asked how Kerry could have voted for the war used the same wording in their response: "He didn't have the information." They Dem staffers fear saying something off-message or even (GASP) controversial more than anything. No one wants to make news they didn't carefully coordinate.

And yet the fact that we and all the other loose cannons were allowed to be there, looking for the stories the major corporate news media wouldn't air, is a sign the party leadership knows they have an interest in letting those who care, at all levels, explore them. At its core, this convention tack wasn't all about conformity. It was all about winning.

More tomorrow...

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I pushed the envelope, made people uncomfortable"

This was certainly true. Now thinking back on that interview, my answers were very incoherent.

***

When will video air?

5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Great point about the swing state conversion push. The questions on my mind are -- is that a cold sore on John Edwards' mouth or what? I'll have to read your play-by-play on his speech. Does Teresa ever smile? Lastly, where are the photos on this blog?

-Katie

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wild Riders -

If you're still in Boston, check out the store at the back end of the Fanieul Hall market mall - the one selling Democratic buttons and banners and shirts.

Everything EVERYONE said at the convention was on a button a week before, from "Strength" to "Team" to images of Rosie the Riveter. This really was Big Brother time... but because it was for "our" side we were willing to accept it. The message was the message and the media couldn't fight it. Repetition makes truth. Mission accomplished.

Dave, I saved a "Homerun Kerry" poster for you from Sunday night at Fenway. I have one up in my window here, and it is the perfect, bizarro memento of the week (except for your video, of course).

Phil

8:45 PM  

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