RNC to ban press from on-site convention coverage in Charlotte

The RNC convention, as it stands now, is in Charlotte, North Carolina. The proposed Jacksonville part of the convention has been canceled due to health and safety concerns. The coronavirus pandemic has turned the planning of the convention on its head, as it did for the Democrats, too, who planned a convention in Milwaukee. Now there is an added twist – the press will not be allowed on-site when RNC delegates vote to formally nominate President Donald Trump as the party’s 2020 Republican presidential nominee. This is a historic first for either party.

The convention planners can conveniently point to the fact that the number of people in attendance is limited due to the coronavirus restrictions in place for mitigating the spread of the virus. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was the first to report the news. The press will not be present to watch as delegates renominate Trump as the Republican nominee. Reporters will also not be allowed in the room when the Republican National Committee meets to conduct official party business. So far there is no word on whether or not C-SPAN will be allowed in to film the convention proceedings.

“[W]e are planning for all of the Charlotte activities to be closed press: Friday, August 21 – Monday, 24th given the health restrictions and limitations in place in the state,” the convention spokesperson said in an email. “We are happy to let you know if this changes, but we are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of delegates at the Republican National Convention had already been lowered from 2,550 to 336. Alternate delegates have been disinvited. Media seating has been eliminated.

The president is scheduled to give his acceptance speech Aug. 27 but there has not been a decision on where he will do that yet. He planned to make that a part of the Jacksonville portion of the convention but that has been scrapped. The RNC plans to live-stream all of the proceedings at the convention.

The DNC originally planned their convention for July 13-16 in Milwaukee, but it has since been moved to take place Aug. 17-20. Only about 300 delegates are expected to attend. That number includes party officials, security personnel, and members of the news media. Media outlets have already begun planning on scaling back their coverage.

Steve Scully, C-SPAN’s political editor and “Washington Journal” host, said the network will have a reduced crew, but still plans to provide “gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings” each night in Milwaukee.

Rather than an evening-long extravaganza, Democrats will offer two hours of messaging each evening, he said.

“It’s going to be much smaller. You’re not going to have all the pomp and ceremony,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama is likely to speak on the second night, with the vice presidential nominee appearing on the third, Scully said. The fourth and final evening belongs to presumptive nominee Joe Biden.

Trump’s programming, for the most part, remains a mystery.

“We’re now three weeks from the Republican convention and we really don’t have a clue right now in terms of the schedule,” Scully said.

C-SPAN hasn’t yet received press credentials to attend, though Scully expressed confidence that they will ultimately be issued.

C-SPAN will air the convention’s business sessions if allowed.

Watching conventions on C-SPAN is usually how I view conventions. Regular network coverage is rife with partisan comments, no matter who the on-air host happens to be. That’s been the reality since long before the Trump years. C-SPAN has moved a little bit in the wrong direction in the years since Brian Lamb retired but it still offers the least-biased coverage of politics.

As a general rule, I come down on the side that traditional political conventions are past their prime. To be honest, most delegates attend to socialize and network with others in the party. A small minority of convention-goers actually do the business of a convention – putting together the party’s platform and rules, for example – while delegates come together to vote when necessary. The restrictions due to the coronavirus may just bring about some long-needed changes to streamline the process and make it more productive.