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Storm outweighs celebrities as hungry media looks for stories on Day 1 of RNC

TAMPA

It's probably a slow news day when one of the more exciting media stories from a day of political convention coverage is a fight between MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus.

But that's what happened Monday, as the storm-inspired cancellation of events on the first day of the Republican National Convention led delegates to mostly stay away, prompting media to turn their spotlight on politicos still roaming the grounds, including Matthews' challenge to Priebus over a recent joke by Mitt Romney noting no one ever asked him for his birth certificate.

"It just seems funny that the only joke he ever told in his life was about Obama's birth certificate," said the MSNBC anchor during the channel's Morning Joe show, broadcasting from Channelside before an audience of about 100 people.

"That's the card … they're playing the (race) card," the host continued, after the segment ended. "If you think that birth certificate thing is funny, you're deaf."

Priebus, who visited the Tampa Bay Times workspace in the Tampa Convention Center later in the day, accused Matthews of grabbing the spotlight by "being the biggest jerk in the room. If he had more than 10 viewers, I would care."

These kinds of "I'm rubber, you're glue" moments seem a little more likely on a day like Monday, when many of the big TV outlets were judging how to respond to Tropical Storm Isaac while staying in place for the RNC. CNN sent anchors Anderson Cooper and Soledad O'Brien to New Orleans for storm coverage; NBC sent anchor Tamron Hall to Louisiana, while ABC had Nightline anchor Bill Weir travel to the area for storm coverage.

Though Isaac mostly brought rain to Tampa on Monday, a media-centered danger remained for RNC organizers. If the storm brings major damage to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, news outlets would shift to the greater catastrophe, limiting the convention's impact in the same way Hurricane Gustav coverage affected the RNC in 2008.

"You cover the news that is the most pressing, the most dramatic and to most Americans, the most important," said longtime journalist Sam Donaldson, who was working at the RNC with ABC News Radio. "If that becomes storm coverage, don't blame the news media; blame God."

The real media celebrity action was often centered on radio row, the area in the middle of the Tampa Convention Center where about 100 different program hosts sit, as notable conservative stars walk from pod to pod, delivering their message.

Newt Gingrich sat with Artur Davis, a black man and former Obama supporter who switched to the GOP and will speak at the RNC today. Mercurial actor Jon Voight sat one space over, talking up his "cheerleading" for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

Even the mightiest moustache in media, Fox News contributor and newly minted national radio host Geraldo Rivera, was energized by the exchanges, interviewing former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann while keeping an eye on the storm's progress.

"We've already seen the replay of Gustav," said Rivera, who found time to visit his mother in Sarasota before joining the multitudes in radio row. "We don't want to see a replay of Katrina."

Storm outweighs celebrities as hungry media looks for stories on Day 1 of RNC 08/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 10:55pm]
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