Time's up! Republicans decide to go home early

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

A look at the 2016 Republican National Convention through a media lens:

Who's watching the clock?

With ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, NBC, MSNBC and PBS offering a prime-time platform on the night Donald Trump was nominated as their presidential candidate Tuesday, the Republicans essentially packed up early and went home.

As CBS' Gayle King interviewed a delegate from the convention's floor at 10:45 p.m. ET, cameras from above caught rows and rows of empty seats with people headed for the exits. A speaker droned on, but the networks weren't paying attention. They were vamping for time.

"You would want Donald Trump Jr. to be hitting his crescendo right now," said MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

The missed opportunity seemed all the more strange because Trump Jr., the night's featured speaker, stepped to the podium with precise timing right after the three big broadcast networks began their hour of coverage, and they showed all of his speech. The momentum then screeched to a halt.

By 10:55 p.m., CNN was left covering the night's benediction.

RECYCLED SPEECH: The controversy over similarities between Melania Trump's Monday night speech and the one given by Michelle Obama at the Democratic convention in 2008 "hung over this place like a cloud all day," said NBC News anchor Lester Holt. It was a full-fledged cable news conflagration, not really tamped down until the roll call gave Donald Trump the nomination.

Fox's Megyn Kelly moderated what may have been the best discussion of the issue, framed by a thorough side-by-side video of the offending passages. Former speechwriter Marc Thiessen was indignant. "What does it say that they didn't catch it?" he said. "(Trump campaign manager) Paul Manafort got up and said nothing was cribbed. Of course it was."

Lawyer David Wohl dismissed it, saying there are often similarities in political speech. "I don't think people gave a flip about it in the end," he said. Fox veteran Brit Hume said the apparent plagiarism left a stain that diminished the event.

LEWANDOWSKI'S SHOT: Before he was fired as Donald Trump's campaign manager, there was little secret that Corey Lewandowski and Manafort didn't get along. And while Manafort minimized the controversy over Melania Trump's speech, Lewandowski used his new perch as a CNN commentator to deliver a much different message. Lewandowski said whoever wrote the speech should be fired. When CNN's Kate Bolduan asked whether Manafort should be held accountable, Lewandowski said: "I can tell you, when I was the campaign manager, the buck stopped with me and I'm sitting here with CNN now. What I think is, at the end of the day, if you're the convention manager, you're in charge of the convention. There is no detail too small."

ON THE FLOOR: Credit CNN's Dana Bash for hustle, maneuvering into position to interview Trump's children shortly after the New York delegates' vote officially gave their father the nomination for president. While the interview didn't reveal much, being there was more important than commenting on the moment from above.

SURPRISE!: "Donald Trump Jr. just got a standing ovation from his siblings." — Peter Alexander, NBC News.

NO SPIN ZONE: Fox's Bill O'Reilly must have thought there wasn't much to talk about at the convention. While rival networks were focused on Cleveland, "The O'Reilly Factor" played an interview with Ice Cube conducted at an airport baggage carousel about a 28-year-old rap song. O'Reilly criticized Ice Cube for not denouncing his song with N.W.A., "F--- The Police," and hosted a discussion with two other white men about it.

RATINGS: Even when they compete on an equal footing, viewers were more interested in following the convention Monday night on the cable news networks than on broadcast. Fox News Channel dominated, averaging 6.35 million viewers during the 10 p.m. hour when all of the networks competed, the Nielsen company said. CNN had 3.94 million viewers, the first time it has ever beaten all three major broadcast network on a convention night. NBC topped the broadcast networks at 3.91 million, ABC had 3.64 million, CBS had 2.69 million, MSNBC had 2 million and PBS had 1.75 million.

LATE NEWS: CBS' decision to go live with Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" during convention week appears to have paid off, at least initially. The Nielsen company said Colbert beat rivals Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel in preliminary overnight ratings for the first time since February, the day after the Grammys. Colbert's show Monday featured an appearance by former Comedy Central mate Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — that's Colbert, the character, from "The Colbert Report," who came out of mothballs to define a new word: "Trumpiness."