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US party season

Rome Hartman | 12:02 UK time, Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Much of the BBC is counting down to Beijing these days, and the opening of the Olympic Games. But here in Washington, we're counting down to Denver, and the beginning of the 2008 political convention season.

bbcwordnewsamerica140x100.jpgI covered my first US party convention 20 years ago. As I remember it, the emphasis was very much on that first word: party. It was the Republican Convention in 1988, and New Orleans was the host city.

Nominally, the business at hand was to install Vice President George HW Bush as the nominee, and to say goodbye to the man who even now remains the Republican hero, Ronald Reagan.

The GOP (Grand Old Party) managed that 'baton hand-off' reasonably well...well enough to launch Bush into the White House. But I honestly don't remember much of what happened at the podium that week. Instead, my memories are filled with music (I'm pretty sure I remember my wonderful CBS colleague Ed Bradley 'sitting in' with a band called Buckwheat Zydeco) and with food (shrimp 'po boys' from a place called Messina's...'debris' sandwiches from the legendary Mother's).

Don't get me wrong; we worked hard, but whether it was because of the Louisiana setting or simply being my first time, there has not been a convention since - and I've covered a bunch - that offered quite as much fun as that one.

Ronald ReaganIn less than a month, the BBC News contingent - including our World News America team - will be setting up shop in Denver, and then a week later in Minneapolis. Perhaps it's because the BBC deployment will be much more 'lean and mean' than in my old days at a US network, but I don't expect to do much partying or gourmet eating.

What I do expect is to have one hell of a story to cover - in both cities - and to work very hard to deliver a distinctive take on both party conventions to our audiences in American and around the world.

The media are much more focused on the Democratic convention at the moment, and it will be a fascinating thing to watch Barack Obama officially take the reins of his party.

But Minneapolis also offers a couple of fascinating storylines: what kind of a 'sendoff' will the GOP give to George W Bush?

And what kind of a reception will John McCain get from those in the Republican party who haven't always welcomed his maverick ways?

As always, what the BBC will be able to provide is not the most coverage...we can't compete with the endless hours the American cable news networks will offer...but hopefully the smartest coverage, from the perspective of what I like to call 'the friendly outsider with the slightly arched eyebrow.'

World News America will be led, as always, by Matt Frei and Katty Kay, who have been delivering incomparable political coverage all year long, and they'll be joined in Denver by Ted Koppel, one of the sharpest and most experienced journalists on the American scene.

We'll be working from sunup to well past sundown. But a guy's gotta eat, right? So if anyone knows where I can get a really good shrimp po' boy in Colorado or Minnesota, will you please drop me a line?


  • Comment number 1.

    Ooh, I'm jealous... Both conventions are going to be belters. Have fun!

  • Comment number 2.

    Money will play a critical role in the run-up to the Presidential poll. This is sad as ideas and genuine ability should matter most. America needs a radical change after eight long yers of lethargy at the top. America has not lived up to the promise after the Kennedy years. Consequently it has lost its stature and its clout.Party conventions are meant to bring together the party faithful to rally around the Presidential candidate. The Republicans will try and project McCain in the best possible light and gloss over his age. The Democrats will use 'change' as their main theme and Obama as the fountain of youth and new ideas. Basically it will be a clash between conservative ideas and innovative change.May innovative change win the day!

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I can only hope that the coverage will be impartial and I'm pleased to read you commenting on Republican events.

    So far we have must have had 20 stories on Obama for every 1 story on McCain. Last week the main news reader on the 6 o'clock news actually flew out to Germany to host the BBC news from the Obama publicity stunt in Berlin.

    It don't feel like it's for me to comment on other people's elections - and to be honest I don't have preference on this one. But if the BBC covers this in detail then I think the impartiality rules should apply just like for UK elections. After all this site is available and apparently popular in the US.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well so far the bbc's coverage of the US elections has been embarressing so are we really to expect anything better.

    If you only followed the bbc coverage of the US nomination process you would think that only a handful of candidates, Obama, Clinton, McCain maybe Guiliani ran for nomination

    Now that we are down to a two horse race, we are to believe it is actually a one horse race.

    And yet still no critical analysis of Barack Obama.(Zbigniew Brezinski anyone ?)

    I guess this is what happens when we lose our media.

  • Comment number 6.

    Congratulations on censoring my earlier remarks! It must mean that I am starting to push the right (or in this case, wrong) buttons at the BBC. I declare that my previous post did NOT break the house rules. It's amazing how little ol' me can do that to a big organisation such as the BBC. In light of this, can the BBC please stop calling itself the champion of free speech please? Also, as you didn't get the TV tax increase that you wanted, you threatened cutbacks. Closing down BBC America would be a welcome cut since English speaking folks can get their news from the American networks either on TV or the Internet.

  • Comment number 7.

    NonEnglish Says:-

    "Closing down BBC America would be a welcome cut since English speaking folks can get their news from the American networks either on TV or the Internet."
    Conversely, would closing down America be an equally welcome cut? After all, American speaking folks could then get their news from the British networks. Or am I somehow missing the point?

  • Comment number 8.

    Hank_Reardon and jon112uk: yours is an interesting call for the BBC to show even-handed coverage. I think you mean even column inches/air time -- which is NOT the responsibility of the BBC.

    If this was a UK election, then the BBC (and any media outlet -- including the newspapers) should be responsible and provide even/equal coverage to the electorate in the spirit of informing, rather than influencing, the voters.

    Any non-UK election is a news event in the UK, and thus the BBC and any other UK media outlet is responsible only for reporting what is newsworthy. There is no obligation to provide even air time or column inches as there is no duty to inform, rather than influence, the voters UK citizens cannot vote in the election.

    If Obama has got more coverage, it is because he and his team are creating more newsworthy stories. You can't blame the BBC for that.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think your missing my point testmattspecial

    I have long since held out any hope of the bbc offering even handed coverage. and i dont mean column inches.

    I love the fact you think there is nothing wrong with news journalists trying to influence opinion, it is another yardstick of the state we are in with regard to our media.

    I seem to remember something about inform, educate and entertain with regard to the bbc, nothing about influence.

    I am not presuming that the bbc are legally bound to give a fair reportage with regard to the us elections. I would presume that as journalists they would report on all the issues and report fairly.

    My point is that if we are to only learn about one candidate then maybe they should tell us a little about his mentor/advisor/the power behind him, Mr Brezinski.

    You say they should only report what is newsworthy, i agree with you here, it's just i think we haved a different opinion of what is newsworthy.

  • Comment number 10.

    Time to have the party conventions....Enjoy your time there....

    The media will have many news stories to cover!

  • Comment number 11.

    I think that TestMattSpecial has a point.

    This perhaps gives us a glimpse of how biased the BBC would be during a UK election if the election coverage law didn’t rain them in.

  • Comment number 12.

    So my comment at number 9 is awaiting moderation, but 10 and 11 are both up.

    It's getting to the point i am feeling persecuted as I am finding it increasingly difficult to have my comments posted.

    I guess i should just stick to positive comments, eh.

  • Comment number 13.

    If BBC's coverage of the conventions is anything like the rest of its coverage of America, it will be nothing short of pathetic. Hiring Copple to show you the ropes was a good idea. Usually when it comes to anything about the US, BBC doesn't have a clue. It seems to me that given that the American networks are sated with people who know the system inside and out because it has been their entire lives including those who have been there done that from the inside, the claim that BBC will have the smartest coverage is more of its typical empty bravada. Do you think an American news team could cover British politics with any skill if it didn't hire an army of Brits who were familiar with it to explain it to them? See how rediculous you seem?

    BTW, if you want to find good food in both cities, ask the American journalists. They can help you out with that too.

  • Comment number 14.

    I live in Flori-duh most of the time. I was here for the 2000 $ellection $cam... and also for the 2004 $ellections. The upcoming political conventions make good theatre for the $ake of political bread an' circus, but they are as meaningless as the Olympic game $cenario.

    The capitalist/fascist plutocracy in $ewertown (Washington D.C.) and on Wall $treet will $not allow Barack "HUSSEIN" Obama to win. Old Coyote Knose that the electoral college $ystem is a $cam mechanism employed by the ruling class to thwart and/or manipulate the wishes of the majority (common folks)... and the soidisant "liberal media" in Amerika is owned by corp-rat elitists. Also... the glorious (sic) Zionist theocrazy of Israel is the tail that wags the dog in Amerikan politics. AIPAC doesn't want Mr. Obama in power; he might consider having a meaningful dialog with the Persians and the Palestinians.

    If this brutal (but candid and factual perspective) is posted herein, it will be a miracle. Over the last two years of blogging on the BBC, I have learned that many of the BBC editors are cowardly and feckless... some of them almost as bad as the Amerikan propagan-duh $ystem. Thus... the truth be damned for the $ake of polit-call-lie correcktasss, and heaven forbid that any blogger dare criticize the apartheid racist tribe-all-eeego policies of Israel or the bizarre fascist insanity and hypo-crazy of the Bush regime.


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