Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Unconventional coverage

Hi there: If you haven't seen the below post about THE SITCOM ROOM, please scroll down. Thanks.Here's another installment from my upcoming memoir on growing up in the fabulous-for-some 60s. It seemed a timely entry.


I’ve always been fascinated by the National Conventions. I am hardly what you’d call a wonk but (a) these political bacchanals were great theater, and (b) there was nothing else on; even ABC pre-empted programming.

At one time there was great drama at these back-slap-fests. You didn’t know who the presidential candidates were going to be until after the conventions, not three months before. Today the only suspense is can you stay awake? But back then it was rollicking good fun – thousands of goofballs in straw hats and bolo ties waving campaign signs and hoping to get the West Virginia delegates into the sack.

For years later it would not be as amusing, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

Each of the three major networks provided their own coverage. Most households had a decided preference for one over the others. We were a CBS family. Uncle Walter Cronkite conveyed trust, reassurance, and objectivity. There was no CBS News “with an attitude”, no “Cronkite Factor”. Just a middle-aged rumpled reporter who looked more like your family doctor than Chad who cleans your pool.

NBC countered with the equally credible “Huntley-Brinkley Report”. Chet Huntley was the stern father with the voice of God. You always expected him to take you out to the back of the barn if you talked during his newscast. David Brinkley was the nerd who made good. Together they developed a large following, rivaling CBS’.

No one watched ABC. When the crown jewel of your primetime schedule is THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, it’s hard to take the news division seriously.

The Democratic Convention was in Atlantic City. Senator Robert Kennedy introduced a short film on his late brother and received a 22-minute standing ovation. Hubert Humphrey was named VP candidate and got the kind of reception reserved for comics on open mic night.

Quick aside: I missed LBJ’s acceptance speech. I was in the Corbin theater watching A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. That was a 90-minute standing ovation, along with continuous shrieking, screaming, and swooning. The crazed girl next to me kept crying out “Paul! Paul! Paul!!” “That’s a screen!” I yelled, finally. “It’s a movie! Paul’s not there! He can’t hear you!” The Beatles were live in Los Angeles on August 23rd. I did not attend the concert. Tickets were expensive ($4.00 apiece!), impossible to get, and mom wasn’t too keen on driving by the Hollywood Bowl and picking me up out front.

The Republicans convened in the aptly named Cow Palace in San Francisco, choosing Barry “what’s the point of having nukes if you don’t use ‘em?” Goldwater as their nominee, and right-wing Bill Miller as his running mate. Ironically, Miller’s daughter is Stephanie Miller, the left-wing talk show host. On the scale of rebellious children, that ranks above the minister's daughter who becomes a whore.

Highlight of that convention was when NBC reporter, John Chancellor was ejected from the main floor. Wearing bulky headphones and an aerial sticking out of the top of his head, he was led away by security thugs on national television. His sign-off was classic: "This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody."


Anonymous said...

The media coverage of the 1964 Democratic convention was noted for a number of things. First, Walter Cronkite was NOT in the anchor booth. After being soundly beaten in the ratings by NBC during the Republican shindig, CBS installed the team of Roger Mudd and Robert Trout.

Then, the biggest scoop was delivered by one of the few women reporters on national TV at the time. Nancy Dickerson of NBC met President Johnson before his podium appearance and verified her report that Hubert Humphrey was his vice-presidential pick (she had seen Lady Bird meet with Mrs. Humphrey, putting two and two together).

The biggest drama on the floor was the battle over which delegation from Mississippi would be recognized--the official, all-white state party grouping, or an integrated "Freedom Delegation"
As part of keeping order, undercover FBI agents were on scene, wearing press passes.

Finally, the main "background" reporting feature was how tired and seedy Atlantic City had become since its peak as a resort in the 1920's. It's felt that the coverage sent the city into an even faster decline that didn't end until gambling arrived in the late 1970's.

Tom Quigley said...

I remember the Democratic convention. After LBJ gave his acceptance speech, the entire hall exited out to the boardwalk so Danny Thomas could suck up to the Democrats since he was Master of Ceremonies for a birthday party, it also being Johnson's birthday that day. Amidst the sounds of fireworks, waves breaking against the shore and drunks coming out of the convention center, Thomas was egging the crowd on and yelling "Come on, folks, let's show everyone how much we love our President!".... Of course, that all happened before anyone knew the truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which would eventually fall under the same category as "Weapons of Mass Destruction"....

BTW, Stephanie Miller also toiled on the ariwaves here in Rochester for several years, as the sidekick of a popular local morning radio personality, Brother Wease... She earned the nickname "Sister Sleaze," mostly because it rhymed with "Brother Wease" (although I saw her stand-up act one time -- there was plenty of sleaze)... Her father was probably rolling over in his grave...

Mary Stella said...

My mother took my older brother and me to little Bader Field airport in Atlantic City to welcome LBJ. I was six. The man didn't "press the flesh". He crushed my poor little hand.

Ambassadress Perl Mesta (better known for being a renowned Washington D.C. hostess)rented a big house a few streets away from our home in Ventnor and threw a big party. Quite the biggest thing to have happened in our little town.

Anonymous said...

"On the scale of rebellious children, that ranks above the priest’s daughter who becomes a hooker."

Uh - "priest's daughter"?

Anonymous said...

Mary Stella...did you know Jessica Savitch or any of her family?

Anonymous said...

I thought Chancellor was pushed around at the '68 Democratic convention.

Anonymous said...

"Uh - 'priest's daughter'?"

Really! How do you sire a daughter molesting alter boys?

Much as Barry "Extremism in the pursuit of (the extreme) right is no vice" Goldwater was perceived as the Devil Incarnate at the time, compared with our current crop of Republicans, Goldwater seems positively moderate. And he had something utterly lacking in the Bush-Cheney-McCain-Palin cabal: integrity.

I have just said something nice about a Republican. They can hold the Winter Olympics in Hell now. (But then, Goldwater is dead, and I always like conservatives better when they're dead. My opinion of Nixon grows every day. Why these days, I merely loathe his revolting memory.)