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USA: Bush the Main Act for TV Convention

by Frazier MooreAssociated Press
August 4th, 2000

NEW YORK -- It all depends on how you look at it.

Humorist Bill Maher began ABC's ''Politically Incorrect'' Thursday with rousing words. ''We finally had the big moment tonight that America was waiting for at the Republican National Convention,'' he said. ''The end.''

On the other hand, NBC News' Tim Russert left the convention genuinely psyched. ''It's going to be a great campaign,'' he said, a broad grin on his face. ''You can feel it already!''

As for Dan Rather, the CBS anchor signed off thinking of the founding fathers who had gathered there in Philadelphia two centuries ago. Since that time, he said, the political process ''has gone from James Madison to Madison Avenue.''

In any case, the convention's final image showed a podium laden with the sizable Bush clan and a diverse group of the candidate's admirers.

Add cascading balloons and confetti, and you had a picture-perfect end to George W. Bush's coming out party.

Before that, of course, he had delivered The Speech. His acceptance speech. ''The most important speech of his life,'' as NBC's Tom Brokaw said in what became the mantra of the day's convention coverage.

By the time Bush began speaking about 10 p.m. Eastern, all the networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS plus cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and C-SPAN -- were on board. Everyone listened.

But for hours already, unseen and unheard, Bush's speech was Topic A among correspondents and pundits.

Even the staging for his speech was deconstructed in advance. NBC News analyst Howard Fineman pointed out how decorative ferns had been strategically repositioned on the podium, from rear center to both sides.

On MSNBC, former Republican speech writer Peggy Noonan marveled at the downsized, college-classroom sort of lectern the nominee had chosen. ''It's utterly exposed, it's utterly undefended, it's utterly observed.''

Next Noonan was on Fox News Channel, where she blamed the media for the convention's choreographed, happy-face style. Republicans, she said, ''don't want to give any excuse for the ... electronic media to come at them saying, 'You're mean! You're harsh!'''

Wednesday's hospitalization of former President Ford from a stroke had introduced surprise into the scripted proceedings. Through this quirk of time and place, the illness of a man who left the White House a quarter-century ago briefly upstaged the man who wants to be its next resident.

But as the networks supplied updates Thursday on Ford's improving condition at a Philadelphia hospital, viewers might have wondered if they were learning more about the medical cause of strokes than about the candidate's positions.

Bush's speech was designed to fill in some of the gaps. After he gave it, TV analysts generally approved.

What did the audience at home think? As Bush spoke, the Web site gauged moment-to-moment feedback from the viewers logged on. But participation was limited -- those using Macs, for instance, weren't welcome.

It wasn't the sort of inclusiveness that Bush was calling for.

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