By:
August 20, 2020

Why have a conventional convention ever again?

The past three nights, the Democrats have shown that the virtual convention might be the way to go from now on. Simply put, the Democrats are crushing it.

And they still have one night to go.

Turns out, the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention were only a warmup. Wednesday was a whole other level.

Typically the speeches are the highlights on any convention — and that was the case Wednesday with speeches delivered by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren before the co-main events of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.

But equally impressive as the speeches have been the well-produced videos and storytelling that, on Wednesday, highlighted topics such as immigration, sexual and domestic assault, climate change and race. Personal stories surely stirred emotions, particularly firsthand experiences of domestic violence and families being separated at the border.

And, as I’ve said the past two days, the quick pace with no downtime between speeches and stories has allowed audiences to remain engaged. If you were interested enough to tune in then you likely didn’t touch the remote from 9 p.m. Eastern until Harris’ speech ended a little after 11 p.m.

While there wasn’t a dull moment in the evening, clearly the highlight of the night for Democrats was the speech given by Obama.

Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, on MSNBC after Obama’s speech, said he has helped on a number of Obama speeches over the years and “there has never been one like that. … It’s alarming to hear it. He’s basically saying if this election goes to Donald Trump, our democracy could be over.”

Obama didn’t hold back. (Here’s the transcript.) Just read this passage:

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

It really was unprecedented to see a past president go after a sitting president the way Obama did Wednesday.

CBS’s John Dickerson said, “You cannot raise the rhetorical or historical stakes any higher. This was the most powerful ‘get out the vote’ message that’s ever been delivered from a convention.”

Obama did praise his “brother” Joe Biden, but it was his remarks about Trump that stood out.

As far as Harris’ speech, Dickerson said, “Traditionally the vice president is the attack dog. But the attack dogs are traveling in packs at this convention. Everyone is attacking Donald Trump. And so, while she will make a defined case against Donald Trump, Kamala Harris comes to this speech with a lot more star power than vice presidents normally have.”

Harris, smartly, spent much of her speech selling herself — her background, her resume, her upbringing, her beliefs.

And, again, because of the format, it worked. In fact, all of the speeches have been way more powerful and resonated more because they are not constantly interrupted by the applause we normally see at conventions.

No one saw a pandemic wiping out the traditional conventions, but give the Democrats credit: They have figured out this virtual convention stuff. And there’s still one more night to go.

Two versions of the same speech

Barack Obama’s speech?

Here’s what news veteran Dan Rather thought in a tweet: “Obama. Powerful. Moving. He demonstrates once again why he was twice elected President. Whatever you thought of his tenure in office, there is no denying that he can summon forth an inspiring vision of the American story.”

But on Fox News afterward, Chris Wallace said, “I got to say guys, I thought it was a really curious speech. You say he talked for 15 minutes —  somebody will tell me if I am right or wrong — but I bet he didn’t talk about Joe Biden for five of those 15 minutes and basically said he was my brother in the White House, he made me a better president, he will make it a better country, talked about how he will get control of the pandemic and rebuild the economy. It wasn’t even all that much about Donald Trump, although he certainly made clear, I think you could only call it contempt for Donald Trump, but most of it was about, almost like the community organizer from Chicago, about how people have to go out and organize and as he said our democracy is at stake. But as a full-throated endorsement of Joe Biden, not saying he wasn’t for him, it was a curious speech.”

Things that popped into my head while watching Wednesday night’s DNC

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Let’s not forget the history made Wednesday night as a Black and Asian American woman accepted the nomination as the vice presidential candidate. On Fox News, commentator Donna Brazile said, “I am excited and let me just say as someone who has worked so hard for so long to see this day, I know that Kamala tonight is going to talk about the steely shoulders that she stands upon. From the first woman to serve on a major party ticket, Geraldine Ferraro, to of course Sarah Palin on the Republican side to Hillary Clinton and tonight Kamala Harris, we have come a long way but we are not there yet. My hashtag tonight is MVP; madam vice president. That is who I want to hear from.”
  • Don’t underestimate how the appearance of music star Billie Eilish might impact young people. She has a huge, devoted following and a debut performance of a song is going to draw a big audience. Perhaps her fans weren’t watching live, but they will see her performance and message in the days to come on their phones and computers.
  • Many of Fox News’ top personalities on “Fox & Friends” and “The Five,” as well as Laura Ingraham, have slammed the DNC for being boring and awkward. Let’s see how they critique next week’s RNC, seeing as how most of that will be virtual as well.
  • Obama stood up for the press in his speech: “A free press isn’t the enemy,”  he said, “but the way we hold officials accountable.”

Talking to Tucker

Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Brian Steinberg has an extensive interview in Variety with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who dismissed criticism that he spreads racist views.

“I’m sure that people who hate my politics will try to discredit them by calling me names, but there is no show that I’m aware of that has made a stronger case for a color-blind meritocracy than ours has,” Carlson told Steinberg. “I believe that all American citizens, regardless of how they were born, should be treated equally under the law. As I say on a nightly basis, we should not impugn people for things they cannot control, for their immutable characteristics. That is an argument against racism.”

You can find plenty of examples and critics who would disagree with Carlson on that point, and Steinberg mentions them in the article. Carlson also talks about a future run for office (he has no plans to do so at this time), his loss of advertisers and his former head writer, who was fired for posting racist and homophobic statements online under a pseudonym. Carlson isn’t a fan of CNN’s Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon, or MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, but he did also offer up some rather surprising thoughts about MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

“Rachel does what Rachel thinks is right,” he says. “If Rachel is interested in something, she will lead with it, whether it’s in the news or not. Rachel decides what she thinks is important, and I think that is just a great quality.”

Video of the day

Fox News’ Sandra Smith did her job well Wednesday and, in the process, zapped Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway. In an attempt to criticize Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Conway said, “If they’ve got a good idea, Sandra, they shouldn’t be sitting on it until Nov. 4.”

Smith shot back, “He’s got a plan. Joe Biden’s got a plan.”

Conway interrupted to say, “Yeah? Where is it?”

Smith said, “It’s on his campaign website.”

Conway said, “Yeah, sure.”

Smith said, “You can read through it more fully.”

Conway then said, “Yeah, I read through it. It’s not much of a plan.”

By fact-checking Conway in real time, Smith, in just a few seconds, had Conway first saying Biden had no plan and “Where is it?” to admitting she has actually read the plan. That’s how you conduct an interview with someone who is double-talking.

On the other hand …

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade continues to be clueless on many things, including how the nomination process works at conventions. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was selected Tuesday night at the DNC to acknowledge, in a brief speech, the delegates won by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — even though Biden is the party’s nominee. Kilmeade, failing to understand this, went on “Fox & Friends” and made a big deal about how AOC was endorsing Sanders.

“It looks like there is an agenda trying to get out with Bernie Sanders leading off day one and AOC with her held-to-one-minute speech endorsing Bernard Sanders right after,” Kilmeade said. “The theory is, and it’s hard to push it down, that once Joe Biden is elected, this party is going flying left, and when things like that happen and you see someone like AOC with the social media rock star she, is basically saying everything bad about the country, where she wants to take it, and what Bernie Sanders would do for it. Bad combination.”

Ocasio-Cortez shut down the controversy and showed her support for Biden in one tweet:

“If you were confused, no worries! Convention rules require roll call & nominations for every candidate that passes the delegate threshold. I was asked to 2nd the nom for Sen. Sanders for roll call. I extend my deepest congratulations to @JoeBiden – let’s go win in November.”

It also should be noted that NBC News sent out a tweet that said Ocasio-Cortez did not endorse Biden. The network later posted a clarification for the misleading tweet. But that didn’t stop Ocasio-Cortez from blasting NBC News:

“You waited several hours to correct your obvious and blatantly misleading tweet. It sparked an enormous amount of hatred and vitriol, & now the misinfo you created is circulating on other networks. All to generate hate-clicks from a pre-recorded, routine procedural motion.”

And, as Mediaite points out, Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet slamming NBC News’ tweet had been up for several hours when Kilmeade misconstrued her convention comments.

Brit Hume’s controversial comments

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume is getting slammed — and rightly so — for a couple of controversial remarks in the past couple of days.

Hume actually went on the air at Fox News during “Outnumbered” and called Joe Biden “senile.” While talking about Kamala Harris, Hume said, “She has the task of boosting Biden, but also, it kind of convinces these young Democrats that this is the ticket you can get behind. That yeah, Joe Biden is an old man, but she will be there as a force, and of course, people believe because Biden is obviously, to some extent at least, senile and may not be equipped to go the distance that she might become president sooner rather than later.”

Even host Harris Faulkner seemed stunned by Hume’s remarks, blurting out “oh my goodness” and then making sure to alert the audience, and maybe even Hume, that “we are not doctors.”

Hume went on to say that “senile” was not a medical term and that you didn’t need to be a doctor to call someone senile. Hume claimed it’s something that happens to old people when they forget things and he said that even he forgets things occasionally.

But for Hume to call Biden senile on the air was beyond inappropriate and, again, I ask: How can Fox News be OK with that kind of commentary from someone who is supposed to be one of the network’s top on-air personalities?

His other somewhat controversial remark came after night two of the convention when he said, on air, about Jill Biden’s speech, “I think this speech tonight by Jill Biden was tremendously effective. In the sense that it didn’t have a hard angry edge that we heard last night, to a considerable extent, from Michelle Obama.”

Many on social media reacted strongly, suggesting that Hume’s choice of the words “hard” and “angry” to describe Obama’s speech had racial overtones.

Hot mic

Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A longtime baseball announcer might have ended his broadcasting career Wednesday. Cincinnati Reds announcer Thom Brennaman, who has been calling major-league games for 33 years, was unaware his microphone was on when he used an anti-gay slur. (You can see the video here.)

He later apologized, saying, among other things, “I made a comment earlier tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of. If I have hurt anyone out there, I can’t tell you how much I say from the bottom of my heart I’m so very, very sorry. I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith.”

After his apology — made while awkwardly continuing to call the game — Brennaman left the booth. Brennaman, who is the son of Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, also calls baseball and football games nationally for Fox Sports.

In a statement, the Reds apologized to the LGBTQ+ community and said, “The Cincinnati Reds organization is devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark made this evening by broadcaster Thom Brennaman. He was pulled off the air, and effective immediately was suspended from doing Reds broadcasts. We will be addressing our broadcasting team in the coming days.”

Media tidbits

  • Remember the Black reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whose tweet kept her from covering protests? Well, things have gotten even stranger. The Post-Gazette has filed a lawsuit claiming a discrimination inquiry by the city’s Commission on Human Relations is unconstitutional. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Megan Guza has the details. And, just for comparison’s sake, the Post-Gazette wrote about it, too.
  • A judge has ordered former PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley to pay the network more than $2.6 million. It’s more than a million dollars more than PBS originally wanted after it canceled his show when he was accused of sexual harassment by six female employees. The Washington Post’s Keith L. Alexander has more.
  • During his show Wednesday night, Fox News’ Sean Hannity announced that President Trump will be his guest tonight at 9 p.m. — the same night Joe Biden will accept the nomination and make his speech at the DNC.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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