Race and cable TV news at the RNC: CNN and MSNBC caught in an image war over GOP's diversity
TAMPA -- Sitting in CBS' skybox inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum Tuesday night, watching Ann Romney and Chris Christie deliver important speeches during the Republican National Convention, I was struck by one thing.
I didn't see many chocolate chips in the cookie they were baking.
In other words, as images were projected on massive video screens behind both speakers, I didn't recall seeing many people of color. They probably were there, but in the hour I watched, they didn't seem to come up much.
That might not matter, except the GOP seems intent on using this convention to push its inclusiveness. A Hispanic clergyman stepped onstage after Christie's speech Tuesday to close the day with a benediction, for instance, and Cuban-American Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been an inescapable presence across the convention and in media coverage.
As I sat in the booth, in walked former Alabama congressman Artur Davis, whose status as a black Democratic politician who left the party amid disillusion with Obama has made him a star here -- resisting anchor Bob Schieffer's insistence that he was "going after" Barack Obama in his own convention speech.
The RNC insists they can be a racially inclusive party, so the struggle over the appearance of inclusion is important here.
Which is why two cable TV newschannels, MSNBC and CNN, have found themselves drawn into the war, as parties on all sides fight over the RNC picture delivered to the world by media. (ABC/Yahoo landed in hot water as well, firing Yahoo News! Washington bureau chief David Chalian after he was accidentally caught on an open microphone saying of the GOP convention "they're happy to have a party while black people drown.")
Liberal friendly MSNBC kicked off the issue Monday morning, as Hardball host Chris Matthews challenged RNC chair Reince Priebus on the Morning Joe show over party rhetoric about Obama pushing a "European-style" health care plan and presidential nominee Mitt Romney's joke about no one asking to see his birth certificate.
"They're playing the race card," Matthews fumed after his segment, which co-host Mika Brzezinski later criticized publicly, saying "we hit a pothole" by letting the discussion get nasty. But that's what often happens in these discussions around such volatile topics, and Matthews' pushback against Priebus' denial seemed an accurate distillation of the image war at hand.
Now conservative media analysts have complained that MSNBC ignored speeches by several people of color at the RNC, including Davis, even while accusing Republicans of race baiting. According to Newsbusters.org, only Indian-American South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's speech was aired on the cable channel Tuesday, prompting complaints about the channel across a host of conservative outlets.
But the website Mediaite noted that right-leaning cable channel Fox News omitted almost all the same speeches during its coverage, except for Davis. Both channels were toggling between panel discussions, speeches and storm coverage, cutting black congressional candidate Mia Love, Hispanic Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Cuban-American Senate nominee Ted Cruz, among others.
Today, CNN entered the fray, declining to comment beyond a brief statement and report about two conventioneers who were ejected from the event after tossing peanuts at a black camera person and saying "this is how we feed animals."
Their statement: "CNN can confirm there was an incident directed at an employee inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this afternoon. CNN worked with convention officials to address this matter and will have no further comment.”
But with no details on who the people were, why the altercation started or whether this cameraman had had any other problems, it's tough to know the full scope of this story (I can say that I haven't had that kind of problem at the RNC and haven't spoken to any other black folks who have.)
Wonder if CNN would accept that kind of answer from any subjects of their stories?
Matthew's MSNBC segment on race at the RNC is below: