Clinton speech draws mixed reaction on cable news

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

A look at the Democratic National Convention through a media lens:

Television's instant reaction to Hillary Clinton's acceptance of the Democratic nomination anticipated what is likely to be a hard-fought slog to November.

"This was about the eighth most dynamic speech of her convention," Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity said dismissively, criticizing Clinton for offering Democratic bromides and a lack of specifics, only to draw an incredulous look from across the desk.

"I don't know what you were watching," retorted former Barack Obama aide Austan Goolsbee, ticking off points Clinton made. "I thought her speech was solid. She touched all the bases."

The speech's breadth seemed to give the pundits pause: ABC's George Stephanopoulos mentioned how it was part biography, part attack on Donald Trump, part Democratic manifesto. That contributed to a lack of consensus on whether Clinton succeeded in reaching the people she needed to.

In Clinton's words and the profusion of red, white and blue, several commentators noted how she had reached out to voters who might not normally consider a Democrat.

"She perfectly married the new Democratic Party to what was left of the old Republican Party," said MSNBC's Joy Reid.

RHIMES' AD: The campaign went Hollywood slick with a five-minute film on Clinton made by "Scandal" producer Shonda Rhimes and narrated by Morgan Freeman, and it was interesting to see how the networks responded to it. CNN, NBC, MSNBC and PBS aired the film, which was shown to the convention just before Clinton spoke. ABC and Fox News Channel were decidedly uncomfortable about airing it, and their commentators talked over it. CBS showed a small portion of the film.

ANTICIPATION: "This is going to be a very, very crucial night," said CNN's Erin Burnett heading into the convention's final night. She did what many of the cable pundits did throughout Thursday, talk about what Hillary Clinton did or didn't have to say in her speech. Jeff Zeleny read excerpts released in advance. The stories that drove the week — chaos at the Democratic National Committee, disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters, Donald Trump's comments about Russia — had faded away. Good for the Democrats, perhaps. Dull for viewers.

O'REILLY AGAIN: It's been quite the week for Fox's Bill O'Reilly, raising a ruckus with his comment that slaves who helped build the White House "were well-fed and had decent lodgings," then lashing out at those who took offense. He opened Thursday's show by saying the "stupefying" conventions "bore me to shreds." It's certainly a counter-intuitive programming strategy, telling your viewers you'd rather be just about anywhere else.

NEWSERS: Say what you will about Trump's news conferences, at least he has them. The PBS team had an illuminating discussion Thursday about Clinton's avoidance of news conferences, the strategy considerations that go into that and why the public — not just the press — should care.

RATINGS: Just over 24 million people watched the Democrats' third night on the six top networks, with CNN again leading the way. More tweets are being sent out about the Democratic convention than the Republicans, according to the Nielsen company. The true test will come Friday when viewership for Clinton's speech is announced, and the acutely ratings-conscious Trump will find out which candidate Americans were more interested in watching.