Frustrated by Lack of 'Red Meat,' Not 'Hitting McCain Hard Enough'

Most prevalent theme during Tuesday night's coverage of the Democratic National Convention, after speculation over healing the Clinton-Obama feud: TV journalists worrying about how the Democrats are not adequately aggressive in their attacks against John McCain as reporters, especially on CBS, repeatedly pressed for more “red meat” and wondered if the speakers are being “hard enough” or “tough enough” on McCain?

CBS's Bob Schieffer rued to keynoter Mark Warner that “normally keynote speeches” deliver “a lot of red meat,” but “I didn't hear a lot of that.” Over on NBC, Brian Williams pushed Warner: “You know there's some in the party who feel that this gathering isn't tough enough against a John McCain who, after all, hasn't let up for a day against this party.” Back to CBS, Jeff Greenfield asserted Barack Obama needs Hillary Clinton “to wake up this hall after a speech that was not only not red meat by former Governor Warner, but more like tofu with sprouts.” Couric even asked Michael Dukakis “if he thought the Democrats were hitting John McCain hard enough?” Clinton's speech left Couric unfulfilled: “We expected a lot of red meat from Senator Clinton tonight...Are you surprised she didn't sort of attack him more vociferously?

Previewing Ed Rendell early in the evening, CNN's Wolf Blitzer wondered: “Let's see if he has some red meat.” On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was “amazed why they don’t have more fun with the man who calls himself Dick Cheney,” as he lamented: “It seems like they’re pulling their punches.” Analyst Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post yearned:
I am waiting for someone to take the podium and say the word “torture.” I'm waiting for someone to take the podium, say the word “Iraq.” I'm waiting for someone to take, to take the podium and talk about domestic surveillance...
Not to be left out, ABC's Charles Gibson set up a series of clips of speakers attacking McCain even as he maintained that convention attendees want to know “when are they going to start going after John McCain?” Apparently, they have:
One of the things that has been raised about this convention is when are they going to start going after John McCain? I talked about the under-card of speakers a few moments ago. There's been a stream of speakers that have been going on through the late afternoon and early evening here in Denver. And they have been taking some very direct shots at John McCain. So, we're going to give you some sense of what's happened in this convention today, right up until now. Let's take a look.
ABC viewers were then treated to clips of Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Senator Bob Casey Jr., Governor Ed Rendell and former Virginia Governor/Senate candidate Mark Warner. CBS also ran a similar highlight reel of the very attacks on Republicans journalists pined for.

U.S. facing “the greatest financial crisis we've had probably since the Great Depression.” The most ridiculous exaggeration of the night came from Tom Brokaw on NBC News at about 10:32 PM EDT, just before Clinton took the platform:
This country is facing very serious problems. We've got a financial crisis, the greatest financial crisis we've had probably since the Great Depression. Two wars abroad.
Fuller quotes from the coverage aired Tuesday night, August 26:

CBS News, on the air for about 72 minutes starting at 10 PM EDT:
BOB SCHIEFFER TO KEYNOTER MARK WARNER: We heard the speech. It was a very high minded, it was a very lofty, a very thoughtful speech. But normally keynote speeches at conventions like this, you get a lot of red meat. I didn't hear a lot of that.
SCHIEFFER PLEADED: Isn't somebody going to have to really draw some contrasts with the Republicans?
JEFF GREENFIELD ON MARK WARNER: You can say Barack Obama really needs something from Hillary Clinton. He needs her to wake up this hall after a speech that was not only not red meat by former Governor Warner, but more like tofu with sprouts.

KATIE COURIC TO MITT ROMNEY: Senator McCain continued his attacks on Barack Obama today. He called him inexperienced on national security at the American Legion convention in Phoenix. Is there a risk that this negative tone will ultimately hurt McCain's brand as a different kind of politician?

COURIC ABOUT MICHAEL DUKAKIS: A funny thing happened to me on my way to the Pepsi Center earlier today when I was at a security check point. I ran into the man who was the Democratic nominee 20 years ago, Michael Dukakis. So we grabbed our hand-held camera and started rolling. I asked him if he thought the Democrats were hitting John McCain hard enough?

COURIC TO BOB SCHIEFFER: Are you surprised that Hillary Clinton is really the first person to come out as the real attack dog against John McCain?
COURIC, AFTER HILLARY CLINTON SPOKE: Bob Schieffer, you know we expected a lot of red meat from Senator Clinton tonight. While she did attack John McCain, but primarily GOP policies. She said at the very start, “no way, no McCain.” Are you surprised she didn't sort of attack him more vociferously?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Oh, I thought it was a very effective attack, Katie. I mean, she really did go after him. When she said “It's not surprising that George Bush and John McCain will be together in the Twin Cities because you can't tell them apart,” that's what Democrats want this to be about. That's what they want this election to be about is about George Bush and the last eight years. So I thought it was a very effective speech. I don't know how Barack Obama could have asked for more.
(Yet Couric, after all her pushing for tougher attacks on McCain and Republicans, complained to Mitt Romney: “Is there a risk that this negative tone will ultimately hurt McCain's brand as a different kind of politician?”)


CNN, some highlights as compiled by the MRC's Matthew Balan:

7:29 PM EDT, WOLF BLITZER:
I want to go to the podium. The Governor of Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, Ed Rendell, is speaking. Let's see if he has some red meat for the Republicans.
8:22 PM, CAMPBELL BROWN:
One of the other interesting points I think John made, in talking about those crucial states, as we have heard David Gergen and others say -- how there isn't enough sort of red meat and excitement coming out of the convention. But the people who are on the stage are the governors of those states, people representing those battlegrounds, speaking directly to those people. It's not necessarily a national audience always, right?
9:04 PM EDT, CANDY CROWLEY:
So, yes, it is about unity within the party tonight, but it's also about bipartisanship and getting things done. And we sort of forget in this, you know, let's have some red meat, let's have -- you know, let's have them really beat up on John McCain, that's what these delegates want, and it is. But part of the Obama message is we have to be a different sort of government. We have to change the way things are done in Washington. We have to be more bipartisan, and that's the message that Warner brings to the table tonight as the keynoter.

MSNBC, as gathered by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens:
7:23 PM EDT, NORAH O’DONNELL: Well why not position a Senator, like Claire McCaskill, up there for five minutes and let her throw some red meat out to the crowd?

7:37 PM EDT, CHRIS MATTHEWS: You have to wonder, politically, why the Democrats at this convention don’t mention the name Dick Cheney. He’s the least popular American in maybe 100 years and he’s been holding those secret meetings with the oil companies for years now. And the only gain we’ve gotten out of that is more secrecy. Because we were never told, or at least he never was, apparently, Keith, if I might bring you in here, he knew the situation in the oil industry because he was meeting with these guys all the time. Didn’t they ever tell him, “Hey the price of oil might begin to spike at the pump?”
9:32 PM EDT:
MATTHEWS: Keith I am amazed why they don’t have more fun with the man who calls himself Dick Cheney. Why more references? Why no, why don’t they talk about these villains, as they see them? Why don’t they talk about Bush, who they see as a villain.

OLBERMANN: I know it works for me. I, sorry.

MATTHEWS: It seems like they’re pulling their, ha! They’re pulling their punches and I’m waiting. Somebody said that last night, said, “well last night was a mellow night about love and family and Teddy getting on.” And, and maybe it ought to start so it begins to smell like a convention. Or am I pushing them?
10:07 PM EDT:
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: I am waiting for someone to take the podium and say the word “torture.” I’m waiting for someone to take the podium, say the word “Iraq.” I’m waiting for someone to take, to take the podium and talk about domestic surveillance and to talk about all the reasons that Democrats want to get rid of George Bush.
12:06 AM EDT:
NORAH O’DONNELL: There's been a lot of complaining among Democrats, even a lot of former Clinton White House staffers who said there’s not been enough red meat, at this convention. I thought Hillary Clinton was throwing it to the crowd tonight.
...
EUGENE ROBINSON: It was closer to red meat than anything we’ve heard at this convention. It really was. I think it was more effective than anything we’ve heard at this convention. I think, but you know, red gets a bit redder than this.

MADDOW: Meat does get redder.

ROBINSON: It does get redder. This was kind of, you know, medium rare at best. It gets juicy.

PAT BUCHANAN: It gets a lot redder than this, I will tell you. But no this was lightly done, quite frankly....I didn’t see the real red meat.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center