By:
August 25, 2020

If last week’s Democratic National Convention was an unconventional convention then Monday night’s Republican National Convention was a conventional convention.

There might not have been a packed arena and boisterous crowds, but everything else felt very much the same as a pre-coronavirus convention. Unlike the Democrats — who rolled out a series of highly-produced videos with personal stories, musical guests and virtual speeches from various locations — the Republicans went old-school with a night of speeches and little else.

Speech after speech after speech from the exact same podium on the exact same stage in front of the exact same flags mostly pounding on the exact same topics made for a convention that had less energy and momentum than the Democratic convention a week ago.

Perhaps it was smart that the Republicans did not try to match last week’s Democratic formula, seeing as how the Democrats pulled off their slickly-produced unconventional convention so well. However, unless you are a diehard Republican, you might have quickly become bored with the sameness of Monday’s first night.

Let’s face it: These two weeks are, essentially, infomercials for the parties. They are TV shows. But it felt like last week’s “show” was more entertaining and more lively than Monday night’s one of the GOP convention. The Republicans had no technical gaffes, but, as former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, “I thought on night one, the Democratic convention was more cohesive. It was more of a story.”

However, Monday night’s RNC probably played well to the Trump base, which it was clearly geared for.

CNN contributor and former Obama adviser David Axelrod said, “I think they see this election as a base election. They see their job as to motivate people who voted for Trump last time and get others who would be sympathetic to Trump who didn’t vote last time to get off the bench and vote. … That’s really who they’re talking to here.”

On Fox News, Chris Wallace said, “While we’re calling this the Republican convention, it’s really the Trump convention.”

CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “You won’t be able to forget that this is Donald Trump’s party. It is almost like one of his buildings with his name on it, and it is not just because he’s going to be there every night, he’s in everybody’s mouth. This is not about the Republican party. This is about the party of Donald Trump.”

The main speakers — Donald Trump Jr., Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott — each made their case for President Trump, but did so in a way that felt like all three might be battling each other for the future presidential nomination. Scott’s speech drew the most praise from pundits.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called it “a classic keynote speech … the most personal and optimistic speech of the night.”

ABC’s Byron Pitts said, “He made it in a positive, eloquent, kind way, that there is room in Donald Trump’s Republican party for brown and Black people. We’ll see how effective it is. … So, I think it’s a compelling argument, it’s a positive spin, but I think there’s some questions as to how far it will resonate in brown and Black communities.”

Portraying Trump as a president for people of color was one of the themes of the night and was a big part of the speech given by former football star Herschel Walker, who called it a “personal insult” when people refer to Trump as a racist.

The other theme of the night was painting how dark the world would be if Democrats took control of the White House. That theme, also, came through in various speeches. In fact, much of Monday was doom and gloom, including a speech from Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who carried guns in front of their home during a Black Lives Matter protest. In his speech, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said if Trump is not reelected, Democrats will “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.”

The upbeat tone for the future that had been hinted before the convention was not on display Monday night, but there are still three nights left for the Republicans to make that case.

It would appear that if they make that case, they will do so the way parties have always done so at conventions — with live speeches that typically play well to large crowds. Unfortunately, for the Republicans, there are no crowds to feed off of. Other than Scott, it felt as if most of the GOP speeches Monday night would have been much better suited for a packed arena at a typical convention. Most speeches Monday seemed to lack the personal connection that many of the Dems made last week with their mostly virtual convention.

But it was just one night. They have three more nights to state their case in an effective way.

Other things that popped into my head while watching night one of the Republican National Convention

Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks as she tapes her speech at Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Each night of the Democratic National Convention last week ran over time — usually a few minutes after 11 p.m. Eastern. But, as The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum pointed out, the Republicans ended seven minutes early on Monday. He tweeted, “which means GOP is yielding 7 minutes of key prime-time hour to network pundits & analysis, instead of their own messaging.”
  • The most bizarre speech of the night was given by former Fox News host and Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. What made it bizarre was how LOUD she was. Was she not told that the arena was mostly empty? The Daily Beast called it “unhinged.” CNN’s Dana Bash called it “incognizable.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams cracked, “Kimberly Guilfoyle yelling over the crowd noise, though the crowd was not there this year.”
  • President Trump wasn’t a big part of the nighttime convention. But the two segments he was a part of were the best moments of the night. In two separate segments, he interviewed regular folks in the East Room of the White House. In the first segment, he interviewed those impacted by COVID-19, such as health care workers, teachers and truck drivers. In the second segment, he interviewed former hostages released during his administration. Fox News’ Karl Rove astutely pointed out that, “These showed a softer side of Donald Trump.”
  • In the most ironic foot-in-the-mouth moment of the night, Fox News’ Sean Hannity said, “The mob, the media, they won’t be covering  large parts of the RNC that we’ll be showing.” Now get this: As he was saying that, he was talking over the convention, while CNN and MSNBC were actually showing the convention. Later, during an emotional speech given by Cuban American businessman Maximo Alvarez, Fox News was in a panel discussion, while CNN and MSNBC were airing Alvarez’s speech.
  • For the most part, CNN and MSNBC stuck with the convention all night, although MSNBC did, from time to time, step in to fact-check inaccurate statements.

For openers

President Donald Trump speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte on Monday afternoon. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Republican National Convention actually kicked off Monday morning when the delegates officially nominated President Donald Trump. That led to an hour-plus speech by Trump that was more grievance-based than the hopeful, optimistic plan for the future that was supposed to be the focal point of the RNC.

Fox News carried the whole speech live, but CNN did not. MSNBC also showed it live, but called out Trump when it was over. Host Chuck Todd said Trump’s speech was filled with so many incorrect statements about mail-in voting that “if we were to air just the truthful parts, we could probably only air maybe a sentence.”

CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale tweeted, “There is way, way more dishonesty in this first convention speech by Trump than in every Democratic convention speech combined.”

From the airways to the White House

I’ve mentioned this in the newsletter several times now, but the book about Fox News written by CNN’s Brian Stelter — “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” — is out today. Check out reviews by The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan and The New York Times’ David Enrich.

CNN published an adaptation of an excerpt from the book on Monday in which Stelter revealed the symbiotic relationship between Trump and Fox News and just how much Fox News personalities influenced the president.

One unnamed former Fox News host told Stelter, “We started to make decisions for Trump, meaning a lot of the decisions that were made on stories to cover were based on the fact that he was watching.”

Stelter writes, “Inside Fox, hosts one-upped one another to get, and stay, on Trump’s good side. Programming choices were customized for one viewer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Stelter wrote that one Fox News host, Pete Hegseth, would check Twitter during commercial breaks to see if Trump was tweeting about the show.

Check out the excerpt, which includes a quote from a Fox News anchor who said it was “fine” when Fox News was called “right-leaning.” But, the anchor said, “we’re not leaning, we’ve fallen over.”

Stepping away

Kellyanne Conway attends an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment on Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the president’s most ardent supporters is stepping away from her job. Kellyanne Conway is quitting her job as senior adviser to Trump at the end of the month in order to concentrate on family. Her husband, George Conway, also is stepping down from his role on The Lincoln Project — a group of conservatives and Republicans hoping to see Trump defeated in November. George, who is frequently critical of Trump, also said he will stop tweeting for the time being.

Kellyanne Conway would be suited to now transition into a television job with Fox News seemingly being the perfect fit. However, The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr tweeted, “I am told that she is not pursuing or entertaining conversations or offers for contributor gigs.”

Eventually, however, it’s hard to imagine Conway not being on television regularly.

Recognizing greatness

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, whose writing about the coronavirus over the past six months has been nothing short of stellar, has been awarded the 2020 Victor Cohn Prize for medical science reporting by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. It should be noted that the award is for work over a five-year period, so Yong is being recognized for more than just his coverage of the coronavirus.

Yong then announced on Twitter that he donated the $3,000 prize money for the award to the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, the Asian American Journalists Association and the International Women’s Media Foundation. He wrote, “I hope this helps other journalists do award-winning work.”

Not a fan

Most who follow politics have seen the Sarah Cooper videos of her lip-synching President Trump. But has Trump? He was asked by Fox News’ Steve Hilton over the weekend.

Trump said, “I have not. I’d like to see them. Are they good or bad?”

Hilton said the videos were very entertaining.

“If you’re saying they’re positive, I’d like to look,” Trump said. “If they’re not positive …”

Yeah, I don’t know that Trump would find them to be positive. But Hilton is right. They are entertaining.

Media tidbits

  • Bleacher Report is closing B/R Mag — the sports site’s long-form storytelling unit, according to Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy. Leaving B/R are B/R Mag editor-in-chief Ben Osborne and senior NBA writer Howard Beck. Some staffers will be reassigned. Sources told McCarthy the decision was made because the “long-form magazine stories were not resonating as much with B/R readers.”
  • Kimbriell Kelly has been named the new Washington bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times. Kelly was the deputy editor for enterprise and investigations and edited the paper’s immigration coverage that led to a Pulitzer Prize. Before joining the Times, Kelly worked at The Washington Post. She replaces David Lauter, who will stay on at the Times to write and supervise polling and other projects.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle has hired Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lisa Gartner to lead investigative reporting and narrative projects. Gartner will join the Chronicle from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she wrote “Beaten, Then Silenced,” which revealed abuse at the Glen Mills reform school in Pennsylvania. Before joining the Inquirer, Gartner worked at the Tampa Bay Times, where she was part of the reporting team that won the 2016 Pulitzer for local reporting for a project on local schools.
  • ABC’s interview with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Sunday night drew solid TV numbers. It was the night’s most-watched program with 5.1 million viewers.

Hot type

Jerry Seinfeld. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

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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