Accepted wisdom says today's political conventions have become little more than gargantuan, glitzy commercials for each party, good mostly for showcasing each group's rhetoric and alerting inattentive potential voters to the home stretch of the presidential campaign.
And for proof, viewers need look no further than TV coverage of both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Even big-name broadcasters seemed to give up during the Republican gathering last week, with soon-to-retire NBC anchor Tom Brokaw lamenting the stage-managed nature of the proceedings. With just three hours in prime time devoted to the event, Brokaw and his network news colleagues were prisoners of convention schedulers, who placed important speeches so close together, there was little room for extra content.
Despite hours more to fill, cable outlets rarely performed better. As a result, empty rhetoric often was passed along as indisputable fact, questionable connections went unchallenged (is it appropriate to cite the Iraq war as an effective response to the 9/11 attacks?) and hollow media images were presented as full-fledged character studies.
In the unerring way TV has of reflecting society while affecting it, coverage seemed to accept the idea that no news was afoot; even the outbursts of protesters during speeches were rarely explained. Viewers would not be blamed for wondering how many thousands of dollars TV outlets were spending to serve as stenographers for the GOP party line.
The few times outlets interrupted punditry and strategy talk to fact-check convention speakers, most notably when CNN dissected Georgia Democrat Zell Miller's angry anti-Kerry rant, the result was informative television that demonstrated the power of injecting a little journalism into reports.
If broadcasters can cover Olympic games with at least a seven-hour time difference, it seems likely they could find a new way to cover political conventions that herald one of the most important political choices voters will make.
To do otherwise is to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy; allowing TV networks to further justify reducing coverage using their own uninspired efforts as an empty explanation.
In the process, citizens get one more reason to remain uninformed until Election Day.