COMMENTS: Arcane Committee Room Wheeler Dealing

What a drab choice confronted the networks. Only two stories were deemed newsworthy enough to warrant coverage by a reporter on all three newscasts and both of them left much to be desired. CBS selected a story that was shocking and dynamic--but also parochial. The collapse of a construction crane on New York City's Upper East Side was appropriate for local news but hardly had national import. ABC and NBC both led with campaign coverage--the prospect of Democratic Party committee members meeting to debate rules and bylaws for credentials for delegates. By a close call the Democrats were Story of the Day. Fortunately to liven things, up there was an unusual sprinkling of global reporting to round out the week--with updates from China, Brazil, South Africa and Pakistan.

Florida and Michigan were the two items on the Democrats' agenda. Both states broke party rules by holding primaries earlier than permitted. Both primaries were won by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both victories availed her naught since she earned no delegates as a result. All three networks offered a preview of what formula would be devised to maintain sanctions against the two misbehaving states but at the same time to acknowledge Rodham Clinton's genuine base of support there. NBC's Chuck Todd predicted a "new magic number" after Florida and Michigan win partial representation: it will require 2118 delegates to clinch the nomination, not 2026.

Rodham Clinton "will likely net some delegates from the ruling but not enough," ABC's Jake Tapper expected, meaning that Barack Obama will likely hold on to become the nominee next week. CBS' Jeff Greenfield speculated that if the committee leaves Rodham Clinton's supporters feeling that she has been "disrespected" they have sufficient numbers at the Denver Convention "to do platform fights, rules fights, nominate another candidate to Vice President, throw things into disarray." Yet when NBC's Andrea Mitchell heard threats of a fight at the Convention she quoted Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling that "a scorched earth approach--and I do not recommend it."

Amid that dry-as-dust committee stuff, some jolts of inflammatory rhetoric enlivened campaign coverage. ABC's Tapper quoted candidate Rodham Clinton's outrageous comparison of the rules regarding Florida and Michigan with Zimbabwe, "where dictators rig elections that often end in violence." NBC's Mitchell picked Rodham Clinton backer Geraldine Ferraro's hyperbolic complaint in the Boston Globe: "If you are white you cannot open your mouth without being accused of being racist." And all three networks ran a soundbite by Michael Pfleger, a white Roman Catholic priest from the South Side of Chicago, teasing Rodham Clinton during a guest sermon at the Trinity United Church, Obama's almost all-black congregation. He cruelly lampooned the former First Lady with self-pitying sobs: "I am white. I am entitled. There is a black man stealing my show." Both ABC's Kate Snow (embargoed link) and CBS' Dean Reynolds reported that Pfleger subsequently apologized to Rodham Clinton.


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