Archive: Ed Bradley

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Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante brings a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room each week to answer your questions. Today he's invited his friend and colleague, 60 Minutes Correspondent Ed Bradley into a special convention edition of the SFR Room to answer your questions.

Plante: You’ve covered a lot of conventions – what one stands out in your mind and why?

Bradley: There are a couple that stand out for me. 1976, Kansas City, the Republican convention stands out because it was my first convention. It also stands out because there was so much drama. There was an effort by Ronald Reagan to take the nomination from Gerald Ford.

I can remember the Mississippi delegation walking off the floor to hold a private caucus. They made the mistake of walking into the first trailer they encountered. It happened to be a CBS trailer. There was a page in the trailer and they paid no attention to him because he was a teenager. But he was the son of someone who was a producer/reporter at CBS and had grown up in the business. He had enough good sense to listen. When the Mississippi delegation left Mike Wallace interviewed the page and he told them everything that had been discussed.

Another convention that stands out for me was San Francisco in 1984. I remember that convention because of the speeches. There were some wonderful speeches there. Mario Cuomo had a great speech. Jesse Jackson had a great speech. Ann Richards had a lovely speech. There was a lot of passion, a lot oratorical passion at those conventions – much more than I saw in Philadelphia and here for example.

Plante: Yes. There isn’t much passion at this convention, it seems to me. What do you think?

Bradley: Well I don’t think there’s a lot of passion at any of these conventions anymore. Because, in a sense, there’s not that much at stake. Everything essentially has been decided before they go into the convention. They know who the candidate is, so there’s no discussion of who the candidate will be. There’s no discussion of who the vice presidential nominee will be. The platform has largely been decided. The rules and all of the issues have been decided.

I think it’s popular to say these things are infomercials, and in essence, that’s what they are. We don’t cover the plumbers convention, or the doctors convention or the teachers conventions the way we cover these conventions. And we cover these because “we’ve always done it.” But even that has changed.

Plante: They’re trying to make this an issues convention. Tracey asks, “What do you think will be the defining issue of this campaign?”

Bradley: I think the Republicans will try make the issue Bill Clinton. And they will hammer that over anover. And they will say you cannot see one without seeing the other. And I think that is the big issue.

The big issue for the Democrats is to separate themselves from Bill Clinton, but without separating themselves from the peace and prosperity that this country has seen in the last eight years.

Plante: G. Grant writes, “Both candidates have promised not to “personally attack” one another. Do you think they’ll keep their promise, and if they don’t, how long will it take?”

Bradley: It was interesting to see President Clinton on Monday night. He was able to draw clear distinctions between what he sees as the record of his administration and the record of the Republican Congress. He did it without personal attacks against anyone. He never mentioned George Bush by name. He never mentioned Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich. He did it in a very clever way. But you know he is a master politician.

It will remain to be seen if Al Gore can hit the same notes, or if George Bush can hit the same notes.

Plante: There’s been a lot of press about the lack of convention coverage by the networks (CBS included). Quite a few viewers, including Robert Alden and Linda Hoyle have sent in mail decrying this, saying if a network can air Big Brother five or six nights a week, why can’t the networks show more than 2 to 3 hours of our government in work once every four years. Any thoughts?

Bradley: I think the simple reason is, the networks are owned by big corporations today, and big corporations are interested in the bottom line. Years ago, certainly my first conventions, networks were owned by companies that were controlled by individuals. Bill Paley at CBS for example. Paley was interested in making money, but not necessarily making money from the news division. The news division was seen as a public service to the country. He could get money from the television network and give back through the work of the news division. I think that a lot of the programs that now aired in prime time, news programs, - you can blame 60 Minutes for being successful – they earn money.

The conventions don’t draw viewers because people aren’t really interested in them so they don’t watch. The networks are more interested in the bottom line, the corporations that own the networks are interested in the bottom line. So, the networks would prefer to put on a Survivor, a Big Brother, or a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire than put on a couple of hours of convention coverage because they can’t sell commercials for it. The bottom line is, they’re in the business of making money.

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Plante: That relates to the next question here. There’s a lot of voter apathy out there. Fewer and fewer citizens are exercising their right to vote. Susan McKay asks “What can be done to get people more focused on the issues and out to vote?”

Bradley: I think it’s a matter of education. I think the networks have a responsibility to provide information on the issues. But I think that we, as a country, when it comes to politics, most people are rather passionless. Most people don’t care about their right to vote. I look it as a duty. I think that is the essence of democracy. Democracy is that you have the duty to vote, but you can also look at it and say you have the right to not vote.

I think too many people think their one vote doesn’t count. But if you pile up enough of those sing votes on one side or the other, they do count.

Plante: ”If you were running the Presidential debates, would you include the third party candidates?” asks Tricia.

Bradley: I would. I think they have a right to be heard, and I would include them.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News team that captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)