Jack Germond: Political Convention Coverage Misses Real Stories

By: Joe Strupp

When Jack Germond covered his first political convention in 1960, the Democratic Party ended up nominating a Catholic Massachusetts senator for president. Forty-four years later, at what may be his last political convention, well … you know the story.

But while the nominee may seem similar, most everything else about the pending convention — and the presidential campaign in general — has changed tremendously since the 76-year-old scribe first worked the quadrennial exercise in party politics.

And, according to him, not for the better.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Germond said Friday morning, speaking from his 16th floor room at the Sheraton Boston, just a few minutes drive from Fleet Center, the site of next week’s four-day event. “There is nothing for them to do, the primaries and caucuses pre-empted the function.

“I would rather be at the racetrack,” Germond admitted, as his wife, who works for the Democratic party, juggled phone calls on another line. “But I have to sell books and I enjoy seeing old friends.”

In town to promote his newest book, “Fat Men Fed Up,” — a 200-page rip at the political process and those who cover it — Germond plans to attend the convention strictly as a guest, and disgusted observer. His wife of 10 years, Alice, is secretary for the Democratic National Committee, so she’s the one working on this trip.

“It is fine with me,” he admits. “I am so sick of this stuff. I’ve turned the page.”

Still, the former columnist for The Sun in Baltimore and political reporter for several news outlets, had plenty to say about the current convention system, which he contends is over-covered and under-whelming. “The parties have a right to have them … and it is worth some coverage,” Germond contends. “But they are not worth four days. There is nothing to be decided at either one of them. It will only be news if something goes wrong, if someone doesn’t get to speak.”

Germond’s new book takes shots at everything from the media’s abuse of polls to television’s failure to cover issues to complaints of liberal bias in the media that “miss the real point.”

When asked specifically about the conventions, the author pointed to the fact that there are more media representatives — about 15,000 — this year than ever and less news. “That is a real trend,” he said. “We have too much coverage. They could send a lot fewer people, but it has become so that anyone who has any ambition to cover politics wants to be there.”

Compared to the 1960 Democratic gathering in Los Angeles, Germond says today’s upcoming confabs are a mess. “It wasn’t anything like this then, now it’s a mob scene,” he said. “There are a lot more local stations and the satellite trucks are everywhere. There also wasn’t any security (then) to speak of. Now it is out of control, they fence off everything.”

Turning to the overall campaign coverage in 2004, Germond criticized most reporters for missing real issues and overblowing non-issues. “They really focus on trivia. We spend a week debating whether John Kerry threw away his medals. Who cares?” he said. “We don’t look at the personal stuff, who are the people around the candidates? Their own histories. Who they talk to, who advises them?”

The veteran columnist also dismissed the “flip-flop” accusation against Kerry. “If you know how Congress works, you know any piece of legislation comes in different forms and people will vote for or against them all,” Germond argued. “To say it is a flip-flop is ridiculous and television lets them get away with it. Newspapers do it better.”

Recalling the 1988 presidential campaign, Germond noted that on the day of Michael Dukakis’ infamous tank ride, he also gave a major policy speech on U.S. relations with Russia. “Television fawned all over the pictures and ignored the speech,” he said. “The speech was more important, by light years.”

More recently, Germond pointed to George W. Bush’s slight change in defense of the Iraq war, saying recently that Saddam Hussein may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but had the capability of creating them. “That showed he was backing away from his original argument,” Germond said. “It did not get near enough coverage.”

Still, Germond believed Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were starting to feel the heat, and credited the press with upping the pressure some. “They are showing signs of being on the defensive,” the writer said. “I think it is getting to them.”

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