Picks and Pans Review: The Flaps, the Fluff

updated 08/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

That's what these lazy networks gave you when there wasn't a speech to broadcast. There were plenty of flaps: Chuck Manatt almost fired, Bert Lance hired, Manatt rehired, Jimmy Carter's speech moving to prime time, Ferraro questioning Reagan's Christianity, and so on. They were worth covering, but not with the video vengeance employed by the networks. Filling time between the flaps was fluff: Do you like the White House? a floor reporter asked Mrs. Mondale. It's pretty, she said. ABC's Barry Serafin profiled the delegates and found them "more liberal than the general public." That's insight. ABC's Good Morning America, unlike its a.m. competitors, left San Francisco for stories, interviewing the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Troy Donahue. With half the nation's leadership captive for its cameras, ABC once again proved itself incapable of finding news.

THE GAFFS AND GOOFS

CBS' Dan Rather used to know his stuff. Now he speaks with astounding pomposity: "One of the things we want to do is...differentiate between the essence of reality and the agreed-upon appearance of things." He came up with some surprisingly naive statements—saying, for instance, that Jackson was forcing Mondale to "walk the plank" on the platform when, just below his nose, the opposite was happening.

Before ABC switched to its late-breaking Hart to Hart, Peter Jennings summed up the entire Democratic platform fight in precisely 60 seconds; in his hands, the issues of the day became a Trivial Pursuit question. The next night ABC's Brinkley did at last analyze the platform—in perhaps 90 seconds. He said that the Democrats blamed a too-big budget deficit on Reagan and also promised to help the poor. "But where," he asked, "will they get the money? Well, this question has not been asked, probably won't be." But that, Mr. Brinkley, is what you and your reporters are supposed to do: ask questions.

THE GOOD

NBC's Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor did explain the platform and the fight over it, giving perspective to the moderate Mondale campaign. And in a short but thoughtful feature, NBC visited a breadline near Moscone Center, comparing it to one near a 1980 convention hall in an effort to see how poorly the poor are doing these days.

But NBC, like ABC and CBS, failed to go out and ask questions, or hard ones anyway. Brinkley's question does deserve an answer. The deficit mess is, all anchors agreed, the major issue so far. But what does each side propose to do about it? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What sacrifices do they demand? These can't be answered by sticking a microphone in the face of a delegate wearing a silly hat or summed up in 60 seconds with a "back to you, Dan." But they could be clarified at least by borrowing a vaunted reporting crew from 60 Minutes or 20/20, one armed with experts and time (and some good TV graphics to jazz it up). That is journalism. TV news isn't.

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