Archive for December 2007

For political choreography, always bet on Obama

December 10, 2007

In general, if a speech has five minutes worth of substance, it should be delivered in five minutes. Oprah Winfrey managed on Saturday to take seventeen minutes delivering five minutes worth of substance.

One wonders whether Oprah and the Obama handlers felt that she must give a minimum number of Oprah minutes to the fans – mostly her fans– who braved Iowa’s December weather to see her. Whether Oprah herself, having called the shots in her world for so many years, simply told the campaign “I’ve got a seventeen minute speech,” and then proceeded to give it. Or whether everyone who could have taken a blue pencil to Oprah’s remarks was so happy to have her on board, that they didn’t want to mess up a good thing.

Oprah may have been weak on content, but Obama’s expert strategists and choreographers were right on, as they almost always are. For connoisseurs of political choreography, the Oprah events were Swan Lake on steroids.

Is Oprah bigger than Bill Clinton? Hell, yes. Oprah runs an empire. She confers overnight fame and fortune on previously unknown authors. Oprah kicks the butts of people who sue her. She appears each month on the cover of her magazine, because she IS the brand. She gains weight without losing respect. She’s lampooned by the South Park guys, and for once, they are the ones who look the worse for it. Oprah is black, and yet accessible to the rest of us. She’s gorgeous, without actually being gorgeous. Oprah’s richer than Martha Stewart, JK Rowling and Madonna. And she’s nice, according to those who are in a position to know.

The Reasonable Reporter expected to be dazzled by Oprah. Wanted to be dazzled by Oprah. But apparently Oprah has been talking to the afternoon TV audience for too many years. Her speech was insipid, and way too long. And yes, she was “out of her pew,” as she told the Iowa audience.

They loved her anyway, because she’s Oprah. And because when you go out in 12 degree weather for an event, what are you going to do, leave before it’s over?

Meanwhile, in a smaller room, thousands of miles away, Dennis Kucinich yelled a lot. The more he yelled, the more applause he got from Northern Nevada’s progressive left., who had braved a tamer version of winter weather to get to the Reno Sparks Convention Center.

Kucinich inspired thunderous applause when he told the crowd of 300 or so that he’d been reading up on articles of impeachment. He spoke of his impoverished childhood. He outlined health care reforms that would strip the industry of its profit margin and redirect those dollars to patient care. He promised to be tough on lobbyists. This got him a standing ovation, but he was yelling again, so it wasn’t clear whether content brought the crowd to its feet, or choreography. (More modern jazz than ballet.)

In a brilliant bit of choreography, the statuesque young Mrs. Kucinich, who in low heels has at least six inches on her husband, perched at his feet on the edge of the raised platform where he stood. She gazed adoringly upward for most of the twenty-five minute speech, until the Reasonable Reporter’s neck began to ache in sympathy. It was intriguing, and it worked.

Mitt Romney, who once seemed to be the Republican bookend of Barack Obama for his presentation style, did not live up to choreographic expectations in his “big speech” about faith in America. The content was well thought out. The strategy was controversial, even in his own camp. The Romney choreographers, if indeed they ever were employed, have apparently joined the Hollywood writers on the picket line. Romney was smart and composed, but he wasn’t moving to the music.

CNN: BoobTube Co-opts YouTube

December 3, 2007

The Reasonable Reporter 12-03-07


Back in the early days of the world wide web, the Reasonable Reporter had a boss, who, reluctant to spend money developing a website, decided instead to get internet presence by sponsoring another company’s site. When the deal was made, he suggested we jump in a cab, go over to the headquarters of the other company, and have a look at their site. We, the underlings, were simultaneously amused and horrified to imagine him on the phone, telling personnel at the other, hipper company, that we’d be over later, as soon as we traveled physically across town to view something we could have seen without leaving our desks.


It’s called “Unclear on the Concept.” Traditional media companies are the undefeated champs of Unclear on the Concept, and they prove it each time they try to co-opt the wild, wild web. Last week’s CNN YouTube debate was simply the latest example.


The first rule of online interaction is far older than YouTube. Online, nobody is who they say they say they are. If you aren’t skeptical of the other guy’s identity, then whatever you do, avoid online sexual flirtations, and don’t produce a presidential debate using questions from an online source. That way you won’t find yourself on a date with a rapist or a cop, and you won’t end up posing questions from Democratic campaign operatives to Republican presidential candidates.


One would think CNN hires only producers with the good sense and professionalism to vet “ordinary” people who want the news organization to facilitate their formal questioning of presidential candidates. Apparently, the standard rules of journalism don’t apply at CNN. At least not when they’re in breathless pursuit of the coolness conferred by the internet.


Another rule of online interaction — no matter what you use it for, the internet is only a technologically advanced way of accomplishing long-established communication goals. Most of the time, the rules of engagement aren’t significantly different than they always have been.


The debate producers were also Unclear on the Concept when it comes to Republicans, and it’s interesting to contemplate whether their unfortunate interpretation of Republican interests was more pronounced because the questions came from “real people” rather than from reporters. Can you imagine questioning Democratic candidates about whether or not they hug trees? Yet CNN producers allowed a question about whether the Republican candidates believe every word of the Bible.


It’s hard to imagine reporters asking such a question, and of course, this was the point. Real people ask questions reporters don’t ask. What’s notable is that the producers either thought it was a reasonable question to ask Republicans, or thought the questioner was reasonably representative of Republican voters.


Republicans are concerned about immigration and taxes, but CNN pushed the more extreme edges of those topics. Expressing disdain for sanctuary cities, and a query about whether candidates would veto amnesty bills shortchanged the immigration discussion. In doing so, CNN ignored a wide swath of Wall Street Journal Republicans who view liberal immigration policy as necessary to preserve economic health in a country whose next generation isn’t large enough to support its future social security recipients.


In a similar nod to the extreme, CNN chose a video from tax-restraint celebrity Grover Norquist, who asked whether the candidates would sign a no-new-taxes pledge, rather than feature a more reasonable question about a pressing tax matter currently in congress. Do the candidates believe the Alternative Minimum Tax should be repealed, or replaced? If replaced, then replaced by what? Of CNN’s 5,000 YouTube submissions, was there not a single questions about the AMT?


Should pregnant women who get an abortion be prosecuted? (Did the Reasonable Reporter imagine this question?) What does the Confederate flag mean to you? Have you stopped beating your wife?


And why are they obsessed with including this week’s version of “boxers or briefs?” Not “Diamonds or pearls” this time, but “Yankees or Red Sox?”


Finally, there is nothing new about featuring questions to politicians from real people. Talk radio has been doing it for decades. Before that, the real people stood in a semi-circle while the politicians stood on stumps. Hence the term…