IT'S A COMMONPLACE that "conventions are nothing more than huge political infomercials." But spend an evening with the RNC's CJs--that's short for "convention jockeys"--and you'll realize just how brutally true a commonplace can be.
According to a crowing press release, the CJs "cover the delegates, celebrities and official proceedings from inside and outside Madison Square Garden. By highlighting people and places across America, the five CJs will offer a fresh look at how President George W. Bush's policies are improving the lives of everyday Americans." In other words, the RNC hoped that by providing some pre-assembled copy they could replace the standard network-produced man-on-the-street and delegate-in-the-hall interviews with their own.
As it happen, no one was biting. Shying away from the eerie fun-house mirror versions of themselves created by the RNC, networks universally refused to air the segments, cutting to their own commentary when the CJs appeared on the screen. Only those actually present in Madison Square Garden or watching on C-SPAN saw the CJs' handiwork.
Take, for example, the hard-hitting queries from CJ Yohana de la Torre "here on the floor of Madison Square Garden with the chairman of the Reagan library":
"I understand that this is the world premiere of the Reagan tribute .I understand that people might want copies of this [video]. How can they obtain them?"
"I hear you had a little conference call with [Nancy Reagan] tonight. What happened?
"Can you tell me a most memorable experience that you had alongside Reagan?
"Thank you so much, and thank you Mr. Reagan. He will always be remembered."
The only way the segment could have been more like a RNC QVC would have been if Torre had actually said: "This video is not available in stores, but it can be yours now for three easy payments of $29.95."
Mercedes Viana Schlapp spent some time with "a very special lady," Becky Brown, who was the one millionth volunteer for President Bush. Samples from her interview:
"Now Becky, what an honor. What has the campaign done to celebrate?"
"Well, he is truly a president of conviction and of character. That's it here from the Ohio delegation."
As another CJ, Tara Wall, told Daily Variety: "We are a kinder, hipper, gentler Republican party. You will see a lot of color in our wardrobes. I think it takes away from the monotony of having speaker after speaker." What's more, she said, "we will have very compelling stories."
And surprisingly, Wall did produce one compelling look outside the convention echo chamber. At about 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Wall's smiling face popped up on the jumbotron. She was broadcasting live from Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. After a brief intro she then turned it over the second best speaker of the night, Renee Amoore. A black, female, Republican Zell Miller: "There's not two Americas. There's one America right? Hello!?" And later: "I know you're all thinking and wondering. Who is this black woman up there talking about small businesses, and trying to push the president's agenda? Let me let you in on a little secret; I'm a third generation Republican. I'm a Republican and I have the nerve to be an African American. And guess what? I've been black a long time." She noted that "the president cut taxes. It's important to cut taxes. All right? Hello!" In the best editorial decision of the night by a CJ, Wall let Renee Amoore run a bit long.
The zestiest CJ by far was Yohana de la Torre, who screamed into the microphone like a TRL groupie for the first two nights until someone finally told her to tone it down. At which point she went into soft-rock radio announcer mode. On the floor with a small business owner from the Ohio delegation, she put her skills from the season she spent as a reporter on a sports show on Miami's local NBC affiliate to work:
"The president is a former small business owner himself, and he understands that small businesses are extremely important .The president also feels that affordable health care is very important .How would his plan help businesses like yours?"
And then she followed up with that softest of softball questions:
"How has your experience been here at the Republican National Convention?"
Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter for The Weekly Standard.