The 2000 Republican National Convention officially opened Monday morning to a rather less-than-packed convention hall. Noticeably fewer delegates were in attendance at the outset than in years past, and one gets the sense that delegates, once the heart and soul of any national convention, fully realize now that they have been relegated to the dual roles of audience and television props.
Mark well, though, they'll be packed to the rafters in prime time, when the networks turn their television eyes to the scene on the floor here in Philadelphia. Media coverage - by the "big three" television networks, cable news and the Internet - and projection of a scripted message and choreographed show are now the central aims of the major party conventions. And the Republicans won't miss their chance to show millions of television viewers what a big, happy and united party they are.
To this reporter, it calls to mind the phenomenon of listless protesters suddenly becoming animated and picking up their picket signs when a TV camera is trained in their direction.
Speaking of protests, there's no sign yet of the promised mass protests anywhere near the convention site, though there have been demonstrations and marches of varied size at some distance, in downtown Philadelphia. But the demonstrations are, irrespective of their merit, a welcome piece of real news for a media desperately in search of a story, any story, at this marathon political infomercial.
This may also be the dynamic responsible for the outsized coverage accorded Arianna Huffington's "Shadow Convention," a political sideshow that's serving to demonstrate that - whatever her influence within the Republican Party - her powers of self-
promotion are second to none.
That giant sucking sound you hear is a news vacuum, something your reporter tends to abhor every bit as much as Mother Nature. So it goes at the Republican convention show, where, to take a page from Winston Churchill, never before have so many come so far to cover so little.