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July 7, 2004

Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials

No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing. The blogs come at this fresh. I'm going.

Just heard today that I have been credentialed to report on the Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Boston, July 26-9. So PressThink will be there, working. There will be 15,000 other media people (journalists, producers, and support staff) in Boston and 35 or so approved webloggers, all trying to make sense of the event, and tell the world what happens at it.

And what a puzzle that is. As far as I know, no one has a convincing notion of what a political convention is, anymore, or why 15,000 people are there to cover it. A giant incoherence has overtaken both the event and everything reported outward from it. Two successive regimes for making sense of a party convention have collapsed—meaning, they no longer explain anything to the nation—and I am not aware of a third that has risen or even declared itself. But this, perhaps, is where the bloggers come in.

Thus the successor regime has tried to govern not with politics or news so much as irony about politics, irony about newslessness, and irony on TV about TV. That is where we are marooned today. But the irony (“one big infomercial, folks”) no longer instructs or inspires anyone, professional ironizers included. It’s a big dead zone in the narrative of presidential politics, to which 15,000 flock every four years, so they can be there when the parties pound the message home and try with all their might to make zero mistakes.

Long ago, conventions were actually a time when the big parties came together and chose a candidate. Forces could be set in motion that might lead to a suspenseful outcome— in the classic case, a floor vote. You can hear reporters reflect on the old narrative, and introduce its echo, when they mention “the last time there was a floor flight,” or “the last time a convention actually decided anything.”

They might also refer, just as the history books refer, to Chicago 1968, with its epic battle between the cops and the New Left on the streets of the city. A general impression of “chaos” came through the lens, the awareness of which swept the convention floor, upsetting everything. Richard Nixon ran against chaos and won. Some say the Democrats never recovered. After Chicago, the city that hosted the convention was understood to be part of the party’s message, a kind of background character at the proceedings. After Chicago, angry petitioners outside would threaten to become part of the story. Both posed severe problems of control for organizers.

By general agreement the “live” convention came to an end no later than 1976, where there was almost a ticket pairing Gerald Ford with Ronald Regan as Vice President. So to understand the party conventions today (and I warn you, this may not be possible) we should remember, especially if you weren’t born yet: there was once a real time event there. The politicians were in control, more or less, the party was doing something real—picking leadership and a direction for the campaign—and press coverage was justified on traditional, “new information revealed” grounds. But that regime ended 28 years ago, and began crumbling well before that.

In with the rise of television as substitute national stage came candidate-centered politics, made possible by the primary system, which starting in 1972 decided the nomination before the convention began. It also opened the nomination to anyone who could raise money, gather momentum, and win some crucal primaries. The primary system depended on the broadcasting system, which gave birth to a new group of experts, strategists and players— the pros with their savvy take on how to get elected in the one-to-many media age.

In a fateful move, which was more like a drift, political journalism developed in imitation and celebration of these pros, as the two groups shared an insider’s fascination with behaviorist accounts of how the public might react, how the electorate may vote, and, derived from this data, a dialect that I call inside baseball, sometimes termed “analysis” by the press. (See PressThink’s “Die Strategy News.”)

By 1976, then, a second regime had overtaken the narrative emerging from convention hall. Its powers began with television’s powers over the political, specifically live network television; and that meant TV journalists— stars in the skybox like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Roger Mudd, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the executives who planned the broadcast behind them, along with the reporters who walked the floor below them.

These folks, it was widely said, were the forces in charge. Here’s the Museum of Broadcasting summarizing what happened to create a second regime:

Party officials condensed the length of the convention, created uniform campaign themes for each party, adorned convention halls with banners and patriotic decorations, placed television crews in positions with flattering views of the proceedings, dropped daytime sessions, limited welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization procedures, scheduled sessions to reach a maximum audience in prime time, and eliminated seconding speeches for vice presidential candidates. Additionally, the presence of television cameras encouraged parties to conceal intra-party battling and choose geographic host cities amenable to their party. (See also this review from former CBS News executive Martin Plissner.)

That’s recognition of a new power in place. The convention changed to completely predictable when it became televisual itself, rather than a self-standing political event able to be televised. For journalists, this posed an immediate problem. If information is a measure of uncertainty reduced, then a political event without uncertainty crashes the old regime of newsworthiness.

Poof. There goes the major rationale for why the networks are there in the first place, why many thousands of journalists congregate at the conventions, why politics and public life is dominated for three days by several thousand people getting together in a hall to hail their candidate and hear speeches about him.

Now let us grant that with speeches still on the schedule there remained the dim but not impossible hope that one or two orators might break with routine, step forward and say something urgent, important, artfully divisive, newly clarifying, memorable or charismatically real. There was also the possibility that some new voice could “emerge,” someone barely known to the nation but a brilliant performer under pressure, the way some NBA players do if their team makes the finals.

Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is said to have done that with her 1976 keynote address. And Bill Clinton had this outcome in mind when, by all accounts, he bombed during his debut on the national stage in Atlanta, 1988: (“… a long and rambling keynote address that received its loudest applause from the restless convention crowd when he uttered the phrase: In conclusion…”)

There were problems with these residual possibilities: the powerful political speech by a key figure that triggers a response, creating “action” in politics; the debut speech on the national stage, which is also a kind of action, since it introduces to the narrative of politics a new player, who may figure in later, as Clinton indeed did. Both are suited for the television regime, and could make it worthwhile to watch the conventions.

But they also play havoc with a bigger imperative, enforced by the candidate’s people and by party officials, which is to test, design and control every single detail of the presentation in prime time, seen now not as a national stage where politics could happen within the party and before the public (the old regime’s definition) but as an advertising window, free for the claiming, that would be “there” for a few dwindling, precious, make-or-break prime-time hours.

For once the parties agreed, in a practical way, that the convention equalled the program the networks televised, they handed over to television the power to shrink the convention, re-frame and re-title it, leaving the party desperate to make a good showing in the tense hours that were left. Bit-by-bit the parties abandoned politics and its symbols in favor of national marketing and televised entertainment— with its symbols. This is like getting on a bus that has only one stop.

The re-definition of what the hours during a convention meant—away from political time before a national public, toward prime time before a captive, and target audience— actually failed on its own terms, a fact that no one talks about today. The parties were unsuccessful in keeping the big national audience tuned in during an era of viewer choice, but the new script worked in one sense. It allowed for high-stakes professional practice in control-the-message politics: the ultimate high for the handler class.

In fact, the whole culture of command and control that developed to such a high point during the era of media politics came to its dramatic hour during convention week. And if anyone doubted the necessity of this grip from above, there stood some reminders— not only Bill Clinton’s individual flop in ‘88, but the Republicans’ 1992 adventure in Houston, when in the words of one observer, Paul Starr of the liberal journal American Prospect:

the Republicans proclaimed a “cultural divide” (Dan Quayle), and even a “religious war” (Patrick Buchanan), trying to stoke the embers of old antagonisms into a roaring blaze that would consume the Democrats.

There was enough truth in Starr’s hostile description that the Houston convention was widely seen as a public relations disaster that contributed to the elder Bush’s defeat— an instance of “lost” control. And so by means of the keep control thesis the conventions were plunged into news-less absurdity. Nothing happens except the unfolding of a promotional plot. This created a crisis in narration, as well as information— to which the press accomodated itself by means of hyper-informed irony. The eclipse of dramatic content was summed up in the word “scripted,” as in: “the conventions have become scripted affairs,” an observation made many thousands of times from the 1970s on.

What’s fascinating to me is that journalists will still offer this observation today, at least twenty years after its SELL BY date, as if it they were tuned to something the rest of us did not grasp: it’s a show, folks… On Tuesday, July 6, the Washington Post disclosed news that had been out for months: “Parties to Allow Bloggers to Cover Conventions for First Time.” This strange article on page A4, which contained no new information, reminded us: “The conventions have become carefully staged productions intended, primarily, to reintroduce the parties’ nominees to the general public.”

Carefully staged, we have learned, means no floor fights, no major decisions, no votes that mean anything, no confusion— except on minor platform matters where losing factions could expend themselves and claim a moral victory. The reason was obvious: with the cameras watching and journalists—the narrators— ready to seize on any conflict in hopes of generating a marginally better story, the potential costs of allowing reality to break out were too great. That’s the opposite of the NBA Finals, where you never know who’s going to win.

And this is how the second regime came to a narrative dead end. As television took charge, the parties re-defined the convention into a marketing and make-no-mistakes moment. This trashed the event’s newsworthiness (also called “spontaneity”) and reduced all reasons to watch, yet it was done under the premise that Americans were watching, and so the show had to be carefully scripted to introduce or re-introduce the candidate and his “story.”

By 1976 the big three networks were no longer doing gavel to gavel coverage. In 1984, ABC cut away from Peter Jennings and David Brinkley to show an old episode of “Hart to Hart,” featuring a car chase. This underlined to party bosses that their competition was not other parties but other programming options in prime time television. The Republicans that same year featured during prime time A New Beginning, literally an infomercial from the Party, a canned film about Reagan and his leadership. The Republicans thus said to the networks: just show our ad, for this is what the convention has become, anyway, a three-day ad.

By 2000, the situation was known to be grim. Here’s Howard Kurt’s summary one night on CNN’s “Inside Politics:”

Al Gore and George W. Bush are both hoping for some convention magic this year. But what if many Americans never see the conventions? NBC, CBS, and ABC are now so dismissive of the quadrennial ritual, they plan to cover only a couple of nights during each four-day affair, and then only for an hour at a time. ABC is blowing off two evenings for “Monday Night Football,” pre-season “Monday Night Football” at that with new anchor, Dennis Miller.

The conventions are increasingly becoming a cable-only affair, with CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CSPAN carrying the action, along with PBS. The political parties once used their conventions to actually choose their nominees. Now, with voters picking the candidates during the primaries, the broadcast networks complained the conventions have become scripted, pre-packaged infomercials.

There it is again: scripted. “All this has turned the conventions into a show,” Kurtz concluded, in a judgment that had been pounded into the audience for more than twenty years, “a show with less scintillating ratings, a show so dull that Ted Koppel walked out of the ‘96 Republican convention.” That really happened. Koppel’s surrender eight years ago, a symbolic statement to the rest of the news tribe, announced that a dead end had been reached. Television had taken command of an event that it mocked from the sky box into meaninglessness. Koppel said: I’ve had enough.

And consider: it caused almost no uproar, no argument back about the importance of a journalist with his stature staying in San Diego. I found that significant. (The regime has workers, but they aren’t big believers.) “Nothing surprising has happened,” Koppel told his audience that evening, “Nothing surprising is anticipated.” (Plus the ratings were low, down 16 percent from 1992, with only 22 percent of the audience tuning in.) This is what I wrote about his decision in my 1999 book, What Are Journalists For?

Here was Ted Koppel, perhaps the most gifted television journalist of his time, host of one of the most intelligent and innovative news programs in the medium’s history—a program that in 1985 produced the first public dialogue ever between a black leader and a white official in South Africa, and in 1988 persuaded Palestinian leaders and Israeli officials to debate each other on live television, with Koppel perched on a makeshift wall between them—here was that that Ted Koppel, declaring that neither he nor his staff could think of anything useful to say or do as the Republican Party and its leadership gathered to make their statement to America.

Because the party’s statement was scripted for the cameras, a polished work of political propaganda, Koppel concluded that the event was worthless, journalistically. But what of a journalism that was worthier than the event, a report that gave Americans a better understanding of the Republicans than the Republicans cared to furnish themselves? It was hard to believe that this was beyond the capacity of “Nightline” and its veteran team. So if “the emperor has no clothes” was one way of reading Koppel’s early flight from San Diego, “I’m out of ideas” was another.

And there have been no new ideas since then. Again, this is where the bloggers come in. Maybe they will have some. I see that Kurtz in 2004 is still interested in calling the conventions “stage-managed extravaganzas devoid of any hint of spontaneity.” But are you still interested in that, after all this time? Is anyone, even Kurtz?

In fact, the search for spontaneity, drama, controversy has begun to focus on smaller and smaller decisions within the scripted plot. Here’s John Harris of the Washington Post, Kurtz’s colleague, talking with Judy Woodruff on CNN around this time four years ago:

Nonetheless, it is kind of a ticklish thing. Hillary Clinton also sees herself as a leader among national Democrats. Many of her people feel that she’s due a prime-time spot on her own, on a separate night from President Clinton. He’ll be on Monday. A lot of her people feel she should be on Tuesday. The problem with that is if you do that plan, then it becomes a 50 percent Clinton convention and only the final two days for Gore.

The Gore people really feel to address this problem that we’re discussing, this image of him as a leader, this convention has to be a defining event, in other words three solid days of Gore’s speakers and Gore’s message dominating. So it’s a little bit of a juggling act.

Three solid days of Gore’s speakers and Gore’s message dominating… That’s how behaviorists speak. In 2000, the control thesis—which had transformed the conventions into marketing, entertainment and propaganda, and then failed to hold a majority of the viewing audience with this formula—was still in place. A failed regime, continuing in office because it has no successor. Kurtz again:

But while the broadcast networks have cut back on live coverage amid declining ratings, 15,000 expense-account journalists still show up for the quadrennial gatherings, as they will this summer in Boston and New York. The cable channels will go wall-to-wall, newspapers will be awash in front-page stories, the newsmagazines will put the nominees on their covers — even though no real news is unfolding inside the arenas.

Why this army, then? Here is what I mean by a giant incoherence overtaking the event. Over the years, more and more journalists have shown up to report on political conventions that those journalists have said mean less and less. Thus did the second regime undo itself. The crisis in narration is not a problem you solve. Instead, you turn the crisis into the story, and the repetition of that story is your regime. But it spun itself into a dead end because it assumed the viewing audience, and the larger public behind it, wouldn’t learn, change, grow, demand anything new, or go for anything realer and less machined.

The only new interpretations left are cynical and circular ones, like this from Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff, who pushes the irony button perhaps harder then anyone. “If you’re remotely in the sphere of being a political reporter and you’re not at the convention, that means, almost de facto, you’re not really a political reporter,” says Wolff, who is the Stanley Fish of elite journalists.

He calls the conventions a “shared identity event.” This is how membership in the club of political journalists is expressed, made known to self and others. That you’ve come to “cover” what is newsworthy in Boston is just a fiction, a joke, empty language that suffices only for the expense form submitted after. No one believes it. The spectacle has “nothing to do with news and everything to do with who you want to be,” in Wolff’s always savvier-than-thou view.

An equally miserable description of what the conventions have become is this analysis from Rick Lyman in the New York Times last Sunday. He introduces us to the “advice” of a reality show producer:

On television, summer is the season of reruns and second-tier reality shows. And a political convention has become, at heart, little more than a reality show. So who better to offer insight than Mr. Murray, one of the founding fathers of reality television, first with MTV’s “Real World” and, more recently, with “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton.

Who better indeed? Lyman has Murray get to the heart of things. “It goes without saying that reality shows are better when you don’t know the winner,” said the producer. “And the more drama and the more potential for surprises, the better.” The most degrading and degraded programming on television—the second tier reality show—is held up as a possible model.

Roger Simon, the U.S. News columnist told Kurtz he will attend. “Even though 99 percent of it is predictable,” he says, “you always have to be prepared as a reporter for something unpredictable. That’s why we’re there — just in case.” Hmmm. So 15,000 troops are sent to protect against a one percent probability of reality breaking out. Sound convincing to you?

The journalist’s explanation for how it all happened is half-truthful: the parties turned the conventions into promotional reels, and stuck relentlessly to the script. This tells 50 percent of the story. It ignores the fact that journalists themselves developed a script to which they also stuck, and they’re still reading from it: “it’s all a big show…”

A large part of the journalist’s script is, of course, the horse race narrative. It states that in reporting on a media event, which is all about manipulated “perception,” you seize on any mistakes you find because mistakes tell you about the party’s ability to control the message, control public perception. Likewise with any unexpected conflict that disrupts, even a little, the smooth impression of a “unified” party.

These other scripts, to which journalists hold fast, are just as responsible for draining the conventions of recognizably human content, and recognizably political action, as well as all “suspense.” Just as the contemptuous decision to cutback on live coverage causes the party to invest even more in control of the remaining hours, which in turn makes the convention even more of an overplanned infomercial, indistinct from other ads. Which in turn repels the viewing audience, which in turn justifies even less coverage. (This year, three hours of prime time television are what the broadcast networks have planned.)

By repeating this at every election cycle the regime has shrunk the state in controlled fashion, but weirdly the size of the group attending to this diminished state of affairs has ballooned. Maybe it’s at the 5,000 or 6,000 mark— the number of delegates for the Democrats. Maybe it comes at 10,000. But surely at some point along the road to 15,000 news criers and media personnel we are entitled to say that they have gained ownership of this enterprise, too. Isn’t that what Ted Koppel withdrew from?

Now come the bloggers, a tiny group added to the mix, who with all their faults and shenanigans have one great advantage. They aren’t a part of the failed regime in political convention coverage. They don’t have to pretend it has the right narrative. They’re free to look with fresh eyes and re-decide what a convention actually is, knowing where the dead zones are.

Brian Faler of the Post wrote a strange account of the bloggers Tuesday, but it had one moment of insight: The conventions are “staged productions,” he said, whereas “independent blogs—especially those focusing on politics—are far more freewheeling, their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.” Faler does not contrast journalists who are credentialed with bloggers who are newly credentialed, but rather puts freewheeling bloggers up against stage-managed conventions. He leaves it to us to intuit: free-thinking opposition to the overly managed and marketed convention isn’t going to come from the press tribe, which long ago made its peace. No creative tension there.

Like most of his colleagues, Faler does the 50 percent thing. What the conventions have become is blamed on the party’s script, but not on the news media’s almost equally scripted narrative (from which I have quoted bits and pieces.) What’s the difference between a freewheeling blogger and a traditional journalist? Well, to me it’s obvious: we don’t buy the script. To which I would add (after Doc Searls): and we know there is no demand for messages. To Faler it’s also obvious: those webloggers don’t have standards! “Their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.” Here he conflates the bloggers’ greater intellectual freedom with their right to be reckless.

To wrap up this lengthy post, my advice to the hypothetical blogger with credentials for Boston: (What’s yours? Hit the comment button and talk into the mike.) Know your history, especially what happened to the first regime in convention coverage, why it yielded to television and how it became a degraded media event. Don’t join up with the second regime, whose story went dead a long time ago. Pick up from where Koppel walked out in ‘96, and find a reason walk in. If you have your reason, but are in doubt on what to write about, then ask yourself who sent you and your laptop to Beantown. Post an account for them.

Report backwards to whatever place you came from— including the opinions you came from, the political place. Feed the user’s advice forward into your choices during the three days of whirling events. With your credentials you’re part of the interactive revolution in political writing done real time, and if you can make your work in Boston more truly interactive you can do interesting work and even break ground.

Interview people who seem to have hold of the political moment, no matter where they stand in some hierarchy. Amplify the human voice of dissent, no matter what kind of dissent it is. (Dissent from the control thesis, or voiced against the irony police, is just as good as old fashioned political dissent.) Write across the highly politicized space separating the people with passes to the convention and the petitioners outside. Guaranteed: they don’t buy the script, either.

Ideally, everything at the convention that is familar and ho-hum to the national press corps and its aspirants will seem strange and (almost) inexplicable to the blogger with fresh eyes. It would be better not to know beforehand things like: the convention is just a reality show. Against the collapsed hulk of this narrative the tiny tribe of bloggers can make no real dent. That show will go on; it’s already started in the buzz about Boston.

All the bloggers can do is begin their reckoning somewhere else, far away from the narrative’s dead zones. Six thousand people from all over the nation are coming to renew a ritual in American democracy, and it badly needs renewal. Through ritual they will try to affirm who they are as a party, and what they believe today about our country’s troubles and challenges.

Here and there signs of dissent have shown up, attacking the control thesis and its carrier class for the hollowing out of political life during presidential campaigns. The Dean candidacy seemed to take several steps away from command and control (and I was among those who seized on that as significant) but it is difficult to know what to make of that moment today. (I’ll be looking for its ghost in Boston.) Perhaps a deeper difference-maker is September 11, 2001, and the way it emits background radiation that the ironizers do not always pick up.

Remember, there is no third regime in convention reporting and commentary yet, only a public need for one. Just by starting the story over, the bloggers, I think, can come out ahead. They have been credentialed from the future to show up and play a different song in the ear of whomever cares to listen. Politics in a different key, I once called it. At the conventions, the key is life.

AfterMath: Notes, reactions & links…

UPDATE: July 8, 11:00 am
Uh-oh… PC at the DNCC? Could be. A right-leaning blogger, Bill at INDC Journal, says he was notified by official letter that he had credentials for Boston, booked a flight, and then was disinvited the next day, with the official excuse being “upon further review of the overall site capacity…” Same official signed both letters. The sad story is here… Inexplicable treatment. Sure seems like ideology and the warfare mentality won out over common sense, and, in this instance, true First Amendment values. Not to mention the open incompetence… Looks like the same thing happened to John Tabin, who has written for American Spectator, among other journals. Via Wizbang, who predicted yesterday that the DNCC would only approve Lefty bloggers…. If the story checks out, then I’m disappointed in these events. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if any “progressive” bloggers were also disinvited (possible), or whether pattern-less incompetence explains the goof (possible), but things do not look good… All this may be the reason there is no official list of credentialed bloggers… The DNCC would be wise to get ahead of the story, and this is the place where the explanation goes. (DNCC blog.) Will it?… David Weinberger agrees: “Yo, credentialing committee, how about some transparency about the criteria? How about blogging about it?”

FURTHER UPDATE: July 8, 1:30 pm
Letter from Eric Schnure of the DNCC After inquiries, I received this letter from Eric Schnure, official blogger for the DNCC. He writes….

It was first reported that we had over 50 applications. That number grew and grew. We ended up with close to 200 bloggers asking to be accredited. A great number… and a great number more than we expected.

Unfortunately, despite hours and hours working to get this right, we goofed. We offered credentials to more bloggers than we can accommodate. Thus, we acted as quickly as possible to notify people of our error.

The vast majority of applications came from left-leaning or progressive bloggers. Therefore, the vast majority of credentialed bloggers are left-leaning and progressive. Likewise, the vast majority of bloggers who received a credential in error are also left-leaning and progressive.

I cannot stress enough that our error was one of logistics not leanings.

We’ve been really proud of our blogging efforts. A lot of people have worked very hard — to get space in the hall, to get hotel rooms, to secure sponsors (every media rep. has to pay for their space, but not bloggers), to organize a breakfast on Day 1, etc.. I hope all bloggers appreciate to what extent we’ve gone to accommodate them at a national convention for the very first time. And I can only hope the conservative bloggers take us at our word. We realize our mistake has caused inconvenience and frustration; we will continue to do what we can to minimize that.

I very much look forward to meeting you in Boston.


Eric Schnure

… Schnure also said that he is working on a post at the DNCC blog and it will appear soon with more information.

Others can make their own call, but I’m willing to accept Schnure’s explanation that patternless screw ups were involved that had nothing to do with ideology. It’s plausible. And I also think the DNCC should be praised for making this decision—to expand credentials to bloggers—in the first place. Same for insisting on equal treatment for weblogs, which arguably pushed the RNC to do the same.

Sending out credentials and then withdrawing them, however, is not a small error, particularly when there is yet no official list of the nonwithdrawn, certified, good-to-go bloggers. Also, I was hoping the DNCC would have an ideological mix, and include some voices from the Right. Are there such? People want to know.

Jeff Jarvis makes his own call: “Come on, DNC: Cough up the lists… They accepted too many bloggers and then had to reject some. I don’t buy it. The equation is quite simple: We have this much room; we’re going to invite this many. Transparency, folks, transparency.”

THIRD UPDATE: July 8, 7:00 pm:
The Official Explanation— Not an Excuse. Eric Schnure, To Err is Human. The explanation from DNCC, restating what is above, with added stuff: “Understandably, it is the conservative-oriented bloggers who lost their credentials that have been the most vocal in their frustration. But I want to be very clear. Our error was one of pure logistics and not political leanings.”

FOURTH UPDATE: July 9 noon:
Rob Galgano of The Great Leap Forward is one left-leaning blogger who was also credentialed, then disinvited.

Another: Jude Nagurney Camwell, a left-side-of-the-fence blogger, who also secured herself a weblog (The Rational Liberal) at her local paper’s site,, was invited and then disinvited too.

(July 9) But see Wizbang, Quick! Look Over Those Applications Again… He’s still suspicious. So is Jeff Jarvis: “I’d say this in the comments on the DNC blog… if they allowed comments. What are you afraid of, guys? If I had applied to go to the convention and had gotten credentials, I would now be threatening to stay away unless the uninvited bloggers were reinvited.” See the comments at Buzzmachine for a range of views on credentialing and other things.

Also, see my letter that Daily Kos posted today (July 9), where I answer Jarvis and take up some other matters. And this AP report on the credentialing buzz.

Alright, back to the issue at hand: what do you think PressThink should do at the conventions, and what advice do you have for newcomers to the party, the bloggers? Tell us in comments, please.

Jonathan Dube at keeps updating his list of convention bloggers. It’s the most complete one I know about.

Let’s Be Clear, says Harvard’s Alex S. Jones: Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists (LA Times, July 18).

See my reply: For Connoisseurs of High Church Condescension…. (July 19)

Also on bloggers, the traditional press and the conventions see PressThink, If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus… (July 16)

The Republicans say they will credential 10-20 bloggers for their convention.

USA Today, Bloggers to join the mainstream at conventions, includes this: “That bloggers get front seats bothers Tom McPhail, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri. ‘They’re certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo,’ McPhail says. Bloggers ‘should be put in a different category, like pretend journalists.’ Boston-bound Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor who writes for the Web site, says the move ‘simply widens the press a little bit. I’m against both dismissal and instant celebration. To me it’s more of an experiment.’” (July 14)

Dowbrigade News (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - It Will Be Blogged) is going to Boston.

Add liberal-leaning David Pell of electablog: campaign news with all the carbs to the list of who’s going to Boston. (July 9)

I love this. Byron LaMasters, Texas liberal blogger @ Burnt Organe Report got credentials: “I’m very excited about this opportunity. I don’t know if this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or if this is something I’ll be back at every four years if I decide to make a career out of this. I’m still not sure. I have another year of college to figure it out, I suppose.”

Aldon Hynes (credentialed for Boston): Convention coverage, another view: “Democracy is too important to be left to elite cronies. It requires the participation of all Americans, and bloggers are a great example of average Americans getting involved in the discourse.” Plus other interesting stuff on how Hynes plans to approach things at the convention.

Oxblog, generally described as right of center, reports receiving (on July 8th) “a very nice call from the DNC, saying very kind words about our blog and inviting us to cover the Boston convention as an accredited blogger.” So they’re Boston Bound.

Rich Heller will be blogging in Boston for the Centrist Coalition.

Dave Winer of Scripting News got the nod and will be blogging from Boston. That’s cool. And Winer reports that Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire will be there too: “Goddard is a good choice because he doesn’t spin, he’s just curious about what’s going on and passes along what he learns,” says Winer.

Dave Weinberger will be blogging in Boston (“just received a letter, paper and everything”) and had this to say:

I have no interest in reporting the events for “the record” because there are 15,000 Professional Journalists there who’ll do that far better than I could. I’m going as a citizen who - thanks to blogs - happens to have a (theoretically) global platform. I guess I’m viewing this as being like writing a travelogue for the folks back home, except as a citizen, I’m a partisan with a stake in what happens.

Halley Suitt of Halley’s Comment: 10 Good Reasons I’m Not Blogging The Democratic Convention: “I applied and probably would have gotten credentials for the Demo Convention here in Boston, and may still get them, for what it’s worth, but I’m definitely not going.”

Markos Moulitsas Z˙niga, orginator of the Daily Kos, is going to the convention. He writes:

I’ll tell you what won’t work — dropping press releases on our laps. And while some of the bloggers will do heavy speech coverage, many of us won’t. I find the things dreary. There’s always more interesting stuff happening — consultants roam the floor, always happy to give their take on this race or that. Candidates and celebrities will make appearances. Candidates are sometimes interesting, celebrities we can make fun of. And the campaign consultants? That’s where the good stuff lives.

Jerome Armstrong is credentialed in Boston. He attended the California State Party convention in 2003 as a blogger: “The most curious thing that I observed, was that by simply holding a mic or a pencil and pad, you could walk up to a politician/operative, they’d see the creds hanging around your neck, and start talking.”

Jeralyn Merritt, TalkLeft Gets Press Credentials For Democratic Convention. Jonathan Dube at is keeping a list. And Dave Winer has set up a community site for bloggers going to the DNCC. The Democrats’ official convention weblog (written by Eric Schnure and Matt Stoller) is here.

Kos links to this strangely alarmist piece by Charles Cooper, senior editor of C-NET:

The last thing the respective handlers want is to invite a wild card. Imagine Michael Moore at the Republican National Convention. How about Rush Limbaugh hanging out while John Kerry delivers his stem-winder? You get the idea: Control the message at all costs.

“You’ve got to closely watch what they do,” a political consultant recently told me, adding that campaigns can’t afford to adopt a casual approach to blogs that pop up during races. “Some of them are really crazy.”

If not crazy, then agitated. If not agitated, definitely hostile. And if not hostile, then most assuredly independent. Such may be the attributes of blogging democracy, but it sure ain’t what political professionals want to unleash into the midst of their media moment of the summer.

Ernest Miller of Corante on Blogging the Political Conventions. (June 21, 2004)

Mary Hodder of UC Berkeley, in a post that covers many bases: “Journalism used to be a very one-way affair (despite letters to the editor…) Neither form, blogging or journalism, is a replacement for the other. In fact, they need each other and could not exist or live without each other at this point. Bloggers rely heavily on the reporting done in news stories, and Journalists often rely on stories bubbling up on the blogosphere.”

Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk, is quoted in this Agence France-Presse piece: (July 5, 2004)

But media critics caution against treating bloggers as real journalists, especially highlighting instances such as reports of an alleged affair between Kerry and an intern Alexandra Polier. Many bloggers were eager to spread the reports.

“It’s just the latest manifestation of the vanity press,” said Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk, that analyzes bloggers as part of its media coverage.

Earlier this year: Boston Globe, Blogs colliding with traditional media (Joanna Weiss, May 10, 2004.)

“Most of them don’t consider themselves journalists and I’ll be the first to tell you that,” Lovelady commented.

Adam Penenberg, a new recuit to the NYU Journalism Faculty, writes the Media Hack column for Wired. His current one is John Kerry and the Lost Kos, about the de-linking controversy Daily Kos was involved in with the Kerry campaign. PressThink on the same events, Sudden Meaning of the Political Verb: to Link.

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 7, 2004 2:03 PM