Al Gore speaks, TV analysts deconstruct

LOS ANGELES - The pressure was on and Al Gore needed to prove he could be a regular guy, hold the starch. And he did - seven years ago as a very funny guest on David Letterman's ''Late Show.''

Stepping up Thursday to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, Gore faced the same task of using television to prevail over his stiff image. For the most part, analysts said, he succeeded.

''I stand here tonight as my own man and I want you to know me as I truly am,'' Gore told the Democratic National Convention, neatly fitting his almost hourlong speech into network primetime.

''Was there charm there. ... Was there humor? Did he end this notion he's a wooden guy without any real personality?'' Fox News Channel anchor Brit Hume asked his reporting crew.

Replied Juan Williams, who watched the speech on TV: ''For the viewers at home, this was Al Gore as a human being with a determination and a passion that I haven't seen in many moons.''

Mara Liasson seconded the thought. Gore ''came off as relaxed and confident. ... How come he hasn't been campaigning and giving speeches like this all along?'' she asked.

Tipper Gore, who introduced her husband after boogeying on stage for several minutes to a pop tune, was deemed ''pretty cool'' by ABC's Peter Jennings, paraphrasing a remark by Gore daughter Kristen.

While Al Gore's delivery won praise, some felt the content fell short.

''I honestly thought it was a disappointing speech from a technical point of view. Is there a memorable line in the speech,'' said Fox News Channel analyst William Kristol, citing George Bush's ''Read my lips'' from 1988 as an example.

As the convention wrapped, with red, white and blue balloons raining down on delegates, CBS' Dan Rather couldn't resist taking a last shot at the current, highly packaged state of such political gatherings.

They are ''less a naked act of history than a flagrant act of hyperbole. 'Popeil politics,' as in Ron Popeil, king of the TV infomercial,'' he said. ''He invented the infomercial to sell his household gadget. The Republicans and Democrats have made it their own to sell their candidates.

''Let the buyer beware. Let the voter be informed,'' Rather said sternly.

Network scorn toward conventions led to reduced broadcast coverage, with PBS and cable channels filling the void - and ready to poke through the hype.

''Is the Gore campaign worried about their man's likability?'' CNN's Jeff Greenfield asked Thursday. ''Oh, boy, are they. How can you tell? Just look at who nominated him.''

That was Tommy Lee Jones, the Oscar-winning actor and Gore college roommate. Describing Jones as the ''ultimate alpha male,'' Greenfield said the actor was intended to counter Gore's image as the ultimate grind.

''We shot pool and we watched 'Star Trek,' when maybe we should have been studying for exams,'' Jones confessed to convention delegates.

Contrary to the soft drink commercial that avers ''Image is nothing. Taste is everything,'' commentators suggested the two are intertwined for Gore.

Grass-roots sincerity was what Gore needed to project, said CNN political analyst William Schneider.

''We'd like to see a different Al Gore than we've seen in the past. He's got to make the argument that he is a fighting populist against the special interests,'' Schneider said.

For the networks, however, populism couldn't hold a candle to Hollywood glamour. Over the course of the four-day convention, celebrities seemed to get as much air time as politicians.

There was actor Richard Dreyfuss, explaining that while he had a political adviser, he had no plans to run for office.

There was model Christie Brinkley, being introduced by MSNBC's Brian Williams as ''a delegate just like any other.''

''I'm here as a mother. I'm not here as part of a Hollywood contingent,'' said Brinkley, who described herself as a longtime activist in her Sag Harbor, N.Y., neighborhood.

On MSNBC, reporter Dana Kennedy made sport of the difference between serious celebrity participants in Democratic politics such as Warren Beatty and Barbra Streisand and the mere dabblers.

''You saw Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston out at many of the parties around the convention with their matching highlighted hair - they're not really known for their deep social activism,'' Kennedy said.

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