The XX Factor

Why the Networks Should Ignore Ann Romney’s Speech

Ann and Mitt on the campaign trail.

Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

As Kerry notes, over the weekend, a minor scheduling spat occurred when the broadcast networks made clear, even before the events were canceled due to the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac, that they weren’t going to air Monday night convention speeches. That would have meant that Ann Romney’s opportunity to testify to her husband’s presidential credentials, and to humanize the candidate, would have gone un-televised. The RNC decided to bump Mrs. Romney to Tuesday night, so we’ll all get to see her.

Over at Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker is relieved at the result, but perturbed at the networks, calling their initial decision disgraceful:

As a piece of oratory, this speech may not carry important policy news, but as a glimpse into the expression of the thoughts and emotions of a possible First Lady, this is a moment of TV drama that surely rivals a Castle rerun. And the GOP knows how important it is to get Ann Romney’s message out there, and so the party is caving to the networks’ scheduling and moving Ann Romney’s speech to Tuesday, when ABC, CBS, and NBC will deign to cover the convention in prime time.

But is it really so terrible that, in covering a highly staged event, the networks would exercise some level of discretion over what’s newsworthy? If the news divisions think that Ann Romney’s speech will merely recapitulate well-worn talking points and retell oft-relayed stories, they’re perfectly justified in cutting her. In fact, that should be their job.

It’s not as if the broadcast networks haven’t exercised discretion before. In 1996, Nightline actually pulled up stakes in the middle of the Republican convention, with Ted Koppel telling the New York Times, ”There was a time when the national political conventions were news events of such complexity that they required the presence of thousands of journalists. But not this year.” In 2008, the broadcast networks only aired the convention events that happened between 9 and 10 PM CST live each night, and did edited coverage of the other speeches, reasoning that PBS, C-SPAN, the cable networks and streaming services could fill the gaps for the true junkies. This year ABC, CBS, and NBC decided to go down to three hours of live coverage total instead of four

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Anderson Cooper are actually headed to New Orleans to cover the potential landfall of Isaac as it strengthens into a potential hurricane. Why? Mitt Romney is certain to have his nomination certified in Tampa, but what will happen in New Orleans is far less predictable, and far more likely to produce actual, you know, news.

Predictability is what makes it entirely justifiable to not air Ann Romney’s speech. It’s hard to imagine that Mrs. Romney is going to attempt to sell audiences on a significantly revised portrait of her husband, or make any news. Given that the conventions are staged campaign events rather than places where events are actually decided, it makes sense that the networks (and the rest of the media, for that matter) should exert judgment.