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Howard Fineman

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Republican National Convention Blues

Posted: 08/27/2012 8:22 am

TAMPA, Fla. -- The storm-delayed GOP convention has led me to propound a mathematical law of journalism for the 21st century. I'll call it Tampa's Law, for the place and time that made it so sadly evident.

The law states that the newsworthiness of an event varies inversely and in precise proportion to the number of media members involved in covering it, writing about it and showing it.

A corollary of Tampa's Law states that the newsworthiness of an event varies inversely to the number of U.S. Secret Service, FBI, National Guard, state troopers, sheriffs and local police who are assigned to provide security for it -- and to the number of bomb-sniffing dogs, newly purchased surveillance cameras and human checkpoints that a civilian (or reporter) must navigate to enter the space in which the alleged news is being committed.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke Watergate. Thousands of reporters here are breaking next to nothing. It's not their fault: there's no news.

The conventions are a kind of logical absurdity, containing and representing the "old" media at its worst even while lamely trying to adapt to the new. The fact is that only the experienced engineers, camera operators and TV networks can transmit live to the world such a real-time event. But it is an event that long ago ceased having any meaning related specifically to the presence of so many people in one place. So it's big because ... it's big.

The only "news" here will be created by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the speeches they give. Will they connect convincingly with America? Answering that has nothing to do with the presence -- or absence -- of particular people in the hall or in the City of Tampa.

And yet, Tropical Storm Isaac notwithstanding, there are 15,000 journalists accredited to this Republican convention. There are some 50,000 security forces of one kind another, many with rifles slung over their shoulder. I don't know how many dogs there are, but a lot.

I made the mistake of going to the Tampa Bay Times Forum -- the convention hall -- Sunday night. I drove. I had to pass through FIVE checkpoints, most with truck-stopping raised metal barriers. The trunk and engine hood were inspected. I felt like I was entering an outpost of the Green Zone in Baghdad.

As for the media, the five TV networks that share pool duty and spend their own money on individual efforts will spend as much as $10 million on the week in Tampa, I'm told.

And yet it's been years -- 1976 and 1980 -- since the conventions meant anything as unscripted, real news events. The delegates increasingly are powerless non-entities; little or nothing happens that wasn't decided long in advance.

If Mitt and Paul had gone to a studio somewhere, or picked a nice friendly crowd in front of which to speak, we could have all stayed home and watched, and used the time and money for reporting that matters -- and that usually happens when a journalist strikes out on his or her own in pursuit of a story.

And yes, I know: I'm here. So who am I to talk? Well, this is what they call in law an "admission against interest." But I know an overburdened, archaic, doomed institution when I see one.

In this case I see two: the convention and the traditional media spending so much time and money covering it.

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  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, left and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates after his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledges delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan and his wife Janna salute delegates following Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Behind is Mitt Romney and his wife Ann. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledges delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs a supporter as he walks to the stage during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney makes his way through delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, cheers as Olympians are introduced during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, right, and his wife Janna applaud during Florida Senator Marco Rubio's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, right, along with Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, applaud during Florida Senator Marco Rubio's speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Marco Rubio

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Marco Rubio

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Clint Eastwood

    Actor Clint Eastwood addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Actor Clint Eastwood speaks to an empty chair while addressed delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tom Stemberg, founder and former CEO of Staples speaks to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Bob White

    Chairman of the Romney-Ryan Campaign Bob White addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Pam Finlayson

    Pam Finlayson addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Frantz Placide and Sean Duffy, center, listen to Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, left, as he speaks during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Jeb Bush

    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush steps onstage to speak to delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Oscar Poole

    Oscar Poole from Ellijay, Ga., wears his hat at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Newt Gingrich, Callista Gingrich

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista walk onto the stage to speak to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista speak to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Herman Cain recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Connie Mack

    Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., answers questions during a press conference in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination later tonight a the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Protesters yell as Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A delegate holds up a mask of Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Jeb Bush

    FILE In this Aug. 27, 2012 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks at the convention floor from the podium during a microphone check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination later tonight a the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Paul Ryan

    Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan waves toward the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Paul Ryan

    Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Sam Ryan yawns in his mother's arms while Janna listen to her husband Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. Right is Charlie Ryan. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, applauds with Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's wife during Paul Ryan's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Condoleezza Rice

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Susana Martinez

    New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Condoleezza Rice

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's wife Janna, left, sits next to his mother Betty Ryan Douglas during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Tim Pawlenty

    Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • John Thune

    South Dakota Senator John Thune gestures to the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman waves to the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

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