July 02, 2004

What We Did Not Say on TV

Inspired by my posting of what I am not saying about employment this afternoon on the Lehrer News Hour, Matthew Yglesias posts what he did not say about "Fahrenheit 911" on Reliable Sources:

matthew: Fahrenheit 9-11: Not Reliable Sources: Inspired by Brad Delong, what I would have said if the booker hadn't canceled on me:

  • It is very strange that the media is more concerned with Michael Moore's invalid argumentative techniques than with the extremely similar techniques employed by the president of the United States.

  • It is very strange that the media is more concerned with the fact that Michael Moore is a polemicist rather than a journalist presenting a balanced view of events than with the fact that the Fox News network and a small army of conservative radio hosts are doing the same thing.

  • It is a very strange thing indeed that the media does not provide outlets for stridently liberal commentary in lieu of the fact that Fahrenheit 9-11 clearly demonstrates that there is a large audience for such things.

  • What liberal media?

  • While Moore has done us all a great service by bringing to light the footage of the president not reacting to the second WTC attack, he fails to make what I think is the most important point here:

    • The President's own aides have such a low opinion of Bush's leadership capabilities that they didn't think it was immediately necessary -- or, perhaps, desirable -- for him to take charge of the situation right away.

I think that this--our posting what we did not say on TV--is a very healthy trend. The discipline of preparing talking points for TV forces us to focus and to strip our arguments down to their bare minimum, which is a very useful exercise. But when we actually get on TV, we are relatively feckless and ineffective. We treat the camera as a bizarre electro-photo-mechanical device, rather than as a human being we are talking to and in whose facial expressions and feedback we are greatly interested. Even or stripped-down arguments are still much too long--with many too many subordinate clauses and qualifications. And so (with tape) they chop us up. And (live) we get interrupted and the conversation moves on.

Much better to use the internet, gaining (a) the space for print, and (b) the power of rapid response.

How should you use TV? Like this:

I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was my friend. You, Senator, are no Jack Kennedy.

Fifteen words. Three sentences. Subject-verb-object. One grammatical complication: a vocative. That's how you do it. (Moreover, it was ad-libbed.) Posted by DeLong at July 2, 2004 01:21 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post


Or how about, "There you go again."

Posted by: Ugh on July 2, 2004 01:24 PM


Even on TV, one should use one's super-powers for good and not for evil.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 2, 2004 01:29 PM


It was great, but it wasn't adlibbed. They knew it was coming and they prepped for it.

Posted by: christine duisin on July 2, 2004 01:38 PM


Just to repeat Christines comment.

But I recently saw the look of the VP face
afterwards. It was great.

Posted by: spencer on July 2, 2004 01:40 PM


Also never use the word "vocative." Don't let the producer or the booker know you know the word "vocative."

Posted by: KevinNYC on July 2, 2004 01:41 PM


Also shows why TV is by far, even on the more intelligent shows like Lehrer, the worst medium from which to acquire news.

Posted by: Brad Reed on July 2, 2004 01:45 PM


Can someone explain the magic of "There you go again" to me? If Carter had said that to Reagan, would it have been crushing?

Posted by: rilkefan on July 2, 2004 02:13 PM


Full text:

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

22 words (23 if you count the contraction as an extra word).

Posted by: Dem on July 2, 2004 02:16 PM


As I understand it, the message here is that Michael Moore is a good representative of the left. If you want to say that, fine. I'm sure that the Republicans would have an easier time running against Moore than against Kerry.

Posted by: Arnold Kling on July 2, 2004 03:06 PM


The wealthy got unneeded tax cuts.
The unemployed got no jobs program.
Bush blew it.

Only 15 words, 3 simple sentences. This is like writing Haiku.
Maybe you should rethink the way you prepare your TV talking points? Write talking points, then condense them to sound bites. That is what the pros do. I once had a prof say we should be able to make our points fit in 8 seconds or 8 hours or any time in between.

Employment numbers were very bad.
Now employment numbers are bad.
That is an improvement.

We don't expect Bush to match Clinton's employment boom.
But losing jobs is unacceptable.

Posted by: bakho on July 2, 2004 03:42 PM


Radio can be pretty damn good though. The Connection on WBUR was great through February of 2001 when the station fired Chris Lydon.

Admitting to knowledge of the vocative would be fine. Hell knowledge of Latin was practically encouraged

Chris did a great gig on MPR this winter, and he's got great blog interviews--including one with Paul Krugman. I'm sure that Lydon would love to talk to Brad.

The Krugman interview is good fun and goes into some discussion about the poverty of

Posted by: Abby on July 2, 2004 03:42 PM


I forgot to mention that I provided a link to the Krugman audio interview in the post above. Click on my name to get to it. I'll repost it again.

Posted by: Abby on July 2, 2004 03:46 PM


u ' u ' u '
"I knew Jack Kennedy.
u ' u u ' u '
Jack Kennedy was my friend.
' u ' u ' u '
You are no Jack Kennedy."

Blank verse soundbites. Good grief!

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on July 2, 2004 05:08 PM


I recall reading somewhere that, not only was Bentsen's line planned, but that the Quayle camp had gotten wind of the fact that Bentsen was ready for a JFK reference, since Quayle had compared himself with JFK repeatedly during the campaign.

They chose to take the risk and go ahead with it during the debate, to their regret.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on July 2, 2004 06:50 PM


Err actually the Jack Kennedy comment was probably not an ad-lib. Quayle had been comparing himself to Kennedy in other speaches, it was not entirely unexpected. And in context it is not particularly appropriate, Quayle was attacked for being young and made a perfectly appropriate counterpoint, he was not claiming to be a jack Kennedy.

The reason the remark worked so well was the framing and the response from Quayle. Like the Dean scream the TV clips did not show the context, in effect the audience was invited to assume the charge was true. But the real reason it was so devastating was that Quayle responded with what quickly became his trademark deer in headlights look.

What the Bushies have discovered is that they can get away with any lie provided they keep claiming that the facts are in dispute.

Posted by: Phill on July 2, 2004 07:32 PM


With help from a bleed through from the next thread,

"Bush is a $#@!-up."

got it down to four words!

Posted by: Dubblblind on July 2, 2004 08:38 PM


Rewrite dept.:

The wealthy got UNFAIR tax cuts.
The unemployed got no jobs program.
Bush blew it.

Employment numbers were very bad.
Now employment numbers are bad.
That is BETTER.

Getting this stuff right isn't as easy as it looks. That's why there ARE pros.

Alas, while TV in the worst news source, it's also the one with the biggest audience.

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