From left to right: Jami Floyd, Ron Christie, Lynn Sher, Cheri Jacobus, Mikki Taylor and moderator Keli Goff © Courtesy The Greene Space at WNYC.
Bottom Line: Instead of “watching the Democratic Convention alone in your pajamas while screaming at your T.V.,” the Greene Space Convention Watch Party treated us to wine and a rare, thoughtful discussion about presidential politics .
Review: It goes without saying that this campaign season has been anything but predictable. And in the the midst of constant mudslinging among spin doctors and media pundits, the Greene Space Political Party, however, was a welcomed alternative and happily devoid of talking points. Similarly to the Republican Convention Watch Evening, tonight’s discussion was also broadcasted live on the WNYC Facebook page. Led by moderator Keli Goff, the nearly four-hour event featured several components including a video link up with WNYC correspondent Lee Hill at the DNC in Philadelphia and a one-on-one chat with Brooke Gladstone before the speeches began.
Comprised of journalists, authors and political heavy weights, the panel of experts on stage included: stylist to the Obama family and author of Commander in Chic Mikki Taylor, Republican strategist and former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney Ron Christie, former ABC 20/20 journalist and author Lynn Sherr, conservative media pundit Cheri Jacobus, fashion correspondent and author Teri Agins, and host for WNYC All Things Considered Jami Floyd.
Between the convention speeches shown on the big screen, the experts at the Greene Space compared the RNC and DNC, with everyone agreeing that Cleveland was a disaster. The Republicans, according to Mr. Christie, carried negativity to an extreme level. Veteran reporter Ms. Sher, who had witnessed the calamity at 1968 DNC in Chicago when working for the Associated Press, found this year’s convention incredibly controlled in Philadelphia, despite disturbance from Bernie Sanders’ protesters.
I would have liked the panel, however, to comment more on the fervent nationalist sentiment with chants of U.S.A! and waving of giant flags, and the themes of security evoked by the Democrats who somehow managed to take the preserve of the GOP, who traditionally have been perceived as the strong-on-defense and law-and-order party. After watching Kazir Khan’s emotional and scathing attack on Donald Trump and Retired four star General John Allen’s full throated support for Hillary Clinton, it surprised me that the panelists had little to say on this.
But when discussing the success of Donald Trump, many agreed that certain news publications could have done better reporting on Trump. Whereas New York news agencies understood who he was, Washington reporters, perhaps trying to appear more balanced, did not call him out enough on things he said that weren’t true. It reminded me of Paul Krugman’s recent Op-Ed in the Times, which he warned of allowing false statements to go unchecked in the press.
Different for Girls
The evening’s most passionate exchange on the panel was on gender roles in both the media and politics and the pressure women face knowing that they are judged according to their appearance. Women leaders are now looking to maintain their femininity but with a more power look, according to Ms. Goff who talked about the new age of power dressing. The discussion turned to which pant suit Clinton would wear during her speech, which Ms. Sher correctly predicted “all white.”
Ms. Floyd said that women have to accept the they’re held to a higher standard in terms of their looks. While it is true that women bear the brunt of having to constantly manage their looks and style, in recent times men in the workplace are also pressured to invest in their appearance to get ahead. Sales for men’s accessories have surged as more males are looking to set themselves apart. Terms like “metrosexual” unfortunately suggest a perception that skews appearance with sexuality. When judging politicians and journalists, we should look more for substance than physical appearance, but I agreed with Ms. Floyd that little else can be done.
The MTV Effect and Social Pressure
The pressure on gender norms may have been a hot topic, but the panel discussed an uglier side of their profession. As Ms. Sher put it, the smoke-filled rooms in the age of Walter Cronkite have long since passed. Today’s 24-hour news cycle requires cable networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox to repeat information in order to fill in space. Ms. Gladstone complained of seeing the same clips of Susan Sarandon or journalists asking mourning Sanders’ delegates whether they would back Clinton.
Social media such as Facebook or Twitter now allow everyone to become pundits. Ms. Gladstone said media outlets are now under pressure to create clickable pieces. The tweet has replaced the soundbyte, and it’s about “red hots rather than red meats,” where facts stripped down of nuance are spun into clever one-liners. Whether it’s true, she said that people don’t want to hear what they don’t agree with.
The Darker Side of Twitter
The certain anonymity that social media brings also appears to encourage malicious behavior. Many of the panelists themselves have had their fair share of online harassment. Ms. Goff complained of sexist and even borderline racist attacks from some zealous Bernie-or-bust supporters while conservative strategist Ms. Jacobus discovered a bogus Twitter account in her name with actual photos of her family. The likely suspect, surrogates of Trump’s campaign who have been scathing in relentless personal attacks against her.
Mr. Christie, also a Republican, African-American and once part of Ohio governor John Kaisich’s presidential campaign, said he experienced racial abuse from some Trump supporters. But what he finds more worrying is how the debate has digressed into “boxing everyone in” for political purpose, forcing everyone, as Trevor Noah of the Daily Show put it, to be one or the other.
Indeed others like Mr. Christie have felt pressure to fit into political norms. Ms. Jacobus committed the ultimate Republican apostasy and left the GOP after having worked for decades in conservative politics. She said, a combination of GOP threats and Trump’s infamous tweets have damaged her career. While neither Mr. Christie nor Jacobus have warmed to Clinton, they have become increasingly disillusioned by the direction of their party as many other notable GOP figures also decided to skip Cleveland.
When Hillary Clinton finally gave her speech accepting the nomination, I noticed all-female panel had become quiet and reflective. Whether they agreed with her politics or had remain unbiased journalists, it finally hit them and most of us in the audience that this is the first time in our history that a major political party has nominated a woman for president of United States. Although there is still a long way to go for genuine equality, the first ceiling finally broke.