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DNC on TV: Another late night, another day of cable controversies

Sleepy this morning? The Democratic National Convention pushed past prime time for a third night as Wednesday's most anticipated speaker, President Obama, finally took the stage at 10:53 p.m. to say that he's "more optimistic about the future of America than ever before."

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords spoke for tighter gun laws and said she hoped to be able to call Hillary Clinton “Madam President.”
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords spoke for tighter gun laws and said she hoped to be able to call Hillary Clinton “Madam President.”Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Sleepy this morning?

The Democratic National Convention pushed past prime time for a third night as Wednesday's most anticipated speaker, President Obama, finally took the stage at 10:53 p.m. to say that he's "more optimistic about the future of America than ever before."

Obama followed not only his vice president, Joe Biden; former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, but another day of controversy, cable-news "analysis" and time-filling, punctuated by the occasional stirring speech.

I spent some of it watching Fox News Channel.

The Democrats may not be the home team for the network whose founder, Roger Ailes, last week stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment, but Fox is still in there swinging.

Besides ensuring viewers don't forget Republican nominee Donald Trump - something it's hardly alone in - the cable news channel's been more focused on the unhappiness of Bernie Sanders delegates than one might expect.

Wednesday afternoon, Fox Business' Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery had a Fox News report on Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who'd come to the DNC hoping to attract disgruntled Sanders supporters to a platform that's pro-union, anti-death penalty, and likely anathema to many Fox viewers.

Kennedy seemed charmed. Anchor Shepard Smith was, as he often is, refreshingly skeptical.

"What's [Stein] screaming about? That's weird," Smith asked afterward of one clip.

"She's an interesting lady, and these are interesting times," Kennedy said.

Adding to the interesting was Trump's focus-stealing suggestion, sarcastic or not, that the Russians find Clinton's "33,000 emails," saying he'd "love to see them."

Across the opinion-heavy cable-news world, levels of indignation varied.

On MSNBC, anchor Brian Williams asked if the likelihood that Trump's candidacy wouldn't be hurt by this latest development represented the "death of outrage."

On Fox News, Brit Hume called some Democrats' reactions "a little histrionic," while Rep. Debbie Dingell, (D., Mich.) told anchor Bret Baier she considered Trump's remarks "treason."

"Smear merchants." That's what Fox News' Bill O'Reilly called critics of his widely reviled commentary on Michelle Obama's talking about waking up in a house built by slaves. O'Reilly on Tuesday had acknowledged the truth of her statement, but had talked about the slaves being "well-fed" and having "decent lodging provided by the government." I'd call it tone-deaf if I weren't sure O'Reilly knew exactly how his words would be received.

"All of us at the channel, we have to be careful not to give our enemies an opening," Geraldo Rivera advised O'Reilly on Wednesday.

"We're going to have to call out the people who are actively trying to destroy this network," O'Reilly said.

Other notes from a third day of DNC channel-surfing:

West Philadelphia's Lee Daniels, filmmaker and cocreator of Fox's Empire, traded his trademark pajamas for a jacket and pants to talk about gun violence, telling delegates he'd wondered, when Clinton invited him, if she knew "that my sister's under house arrest . . . that my brother Maynard is in jail," or "that my father was a police officer, shot and murdered, right here in Philadelphia, when I was 15?"

Or that he'd been to jail himself.

Turns out that "Hillary knows me . . . and that's what gave me the courage to come and talk to you tonight."

Daniels' father, 34-year-old Philadelphia police Cpl. William L. Daniels, was killed on Dec. 16, 1975, reportedly while trying to stop a holdup at a bar.

"Hillary understands our right to bear guns but wants to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands," Daniels said.

Also in favor of gun control: former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

CNN, MSNBC, and PBS all carried Giffords' brief but memorable appearance, which coincided with O'Reilly's interview with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.

"In Congress, I learned a powerful lesson. Strong women get things done," said Giffords, who in 2011 survived a gunshot to the head in an attempted assassination. She told delegates Clinton would stand up to the gun lobby.

"Speaking is difficult for me, but in January, I want to say these two words: Madam President."

Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney, who's been filling in for Neil Cavuto on Fox News, on Tuesday was worked up about no one mentioning ISIS on Day One of the DNC. He had another concern on Wednesday: the absence of a "national debt clock" at either convention. The RNC had one in 2012. Looking for someone to plan a really depressing party? Varney's your guy.

Nielsen ratings aren't votes, but the first two nights of the DNC in Philadelphia have outdrawn the first half of the Republicans' show in Cleveland.

On Tuesday, from 10 to 11:15 p.m., a period that included former President Bill Clinton's speech, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and PBS together averaged a total audience of some 26.4 million viewers, according to the preliminary Nielsens.

CNN again led with 5.929 million viewers, though NBC and its cable sibling MSNBC together totaled 9.1 million viewers.

On the same night a week ago, those networks attracted some 22 million viewers for the hour in which all carried live RNC coverage. Fox News then was the most-watched channel, with an average of 5.26 million viewers.

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