28 July 2011

Politically incorrect holiday interlude



Before going away, I usually try to post an interlude in the hopes that visitors might be tempted to return to the blog when normal service is resumed (in the second week of August).

With trouble still brewing in Syria and the EU struggling to solve the Euro crisis, the first two segments of this clip on Syrians and Belgians struck me as being vaguely topical.

And, if the first two targets don't remind you of just how politically incorrect Monty Python's sketches could be in the 1970s - before the concept of 'political correctness' had been invented - just wait until they get to their third and final target ...

Other Interludes:

21 July 2011

PowerPoint on radio and television revisited



A warm welcome to BBC Radio Scotland listeners who may have found their way here after listening to this morning's discussion of PowerPoint on MacAulay & Co.

If you'd like to know more about the Anti-PowerPoint Party, you can watch the president's video above and/or sign up to support it HERE.

There's a certain irony that this is not the first time I've been invited to discuss PowerPoint on BBC Radio or the BBC website - but not on BBC television - because other parts of the corporation, most notably BBC TV news and current affairs programmes, have been falling into the trap of broadcasting more and more slide-dependent presentations by reporters 'on location' at the other side of the studio (see links in section 2 below).

Visual aids or visual crutches?
The challenge of how to avoid inflicting death from 1,000 slides and make more effective use visual aids is something I've been teaching, writing and blogging about for years - and you can find out more about the subject from either of my two most recent books - both of which are available from Amazon in hard copy and/or downloadable immediately as Kindle editions:
Or, you can check out some of my other blog posts on the subject below, many of which are illustrated by short video clips:

1. PowerPoint:
2. TV news via PowerPoint:

19 July 2011

There's more to a novel name than meets the eye and ear

In calling their daughter 'Harper 7', David and Victoria Beckham are at the extreme end of a worrying trend that's been growing apace for at least a generation, namely the search for obscure names to inflict on unsuspecting new-born babies.

It's a practice that arguably has more to do with parental attempts to demonstrate their own startling originality than with the long-term comfort and well-being of their children.

Some friends of ours were recently getting very neurotic about the birth of a forthcoming grandchild because, had it been a girl, the parents were threatening to call her 'Nettle'. Luckily for everyone concerned, it was a boy, now safely registered as 'Edward'.

And by 'everyone' concerned, I include - at very the top of the list - the innocent victims who'll have to live with an unusual name for the rest of their lives.

Younger members of my family brand me as a 'name-fascist' when I advocate a statutory list of permitted names, along the lines of what used to apply in France. But they, of course, are too young to realise that it's only during their life-time that 'Max' has risen from nowhere to make it into the top twenty in some current lists of most popular boy's name - so it strikes them as being perfectly normal.

But, as I keep telling them, there's method in my madness that comes from experience.

MAX - a suitable name for cats, dogs, gangsters and cab-drivers
Apart from my maternal great-grandfather and grandfather (on whose birthday I was born, thereby giving my parents little choice in the matter), it was 36 years until I met anyone else called 'Max' - and he was an Australian.

Before that, it was a name exclusively reserved for cats, dogs and hamsters. The only partial exception to this was 'Maxie', who made occasional appearances being bumped off in the second reel of American gangster movies. Readers of the early Beano may also remember, though not as vividly as I do, that it featured a comic strip about a cab-driver called 'Maxy's Taxi'.

Do you really want your child to be singled out?
Apart from the slight irritation of being nick-named after a cartoon character, my name didn't bother me too much until I was shipped off to a prep school from ages 8-13. The headmaster called all the other 119 of the 120 boys by their surnames. He never explained to me (or anyone else, as far as I kow) why I was the only one in the school to be called by his first name, and can only assume that it must have been because I happened to be the only one there with such an unusual name.

I've no idea whether or not it did me any long-term damage, but I do know that I didn't much like being the only one who was singled out from the crowd in this way.

Do you really want your child to feel excluded?
Throughout my childhood, the thing that really bugged me about my name was its total and complete absence from the racks of monogrammed pencils, combs, mugs and other seaside souvenirs at Filey and Scarborough. Think what it feels like when you're the only child on the promenade with nothing whatsoever to choose from - I'd even have settled for 'Maxie', but that was never there either - while everyone else could chose pretty much anything they liked with 'David', 'Michael' or 'Richard' printed on it.

Times have changed
Today, of course, I'd have no problem in buying a pencil or comb with 'Max' on it - but the new problem is that grandparents are finding it more and more difficult to find souvenirs with their grandchildren's names on them.

In response to my grumpy old man's rants on the subject, the younger generation of parents tell me that obscure names have become so common as to be the new norm, which means that no one will notice them as being unusual any more.

For the sake of the new generations of children with novelty names, I just hope they're right.

As for those in the business of producing monogrammed novelties, the development of print-on-demand technology has presumably made it possible for them to cater for any imaginable combination of letters - and even, in the case of the new Beckham baby, numbers - that may be required.

15 July 2011

What went wrong with BBC Newsnight's latest attempt to involve a studio audience?

A couple of nights ago, BBC's Newsnight, advertised in advance as involving a live studio audience, attracted quite a lot of negative comments on Twitter, both during and after the programme. The main complaint was that the audience was rather unforthcoming and that even Jeremy Paxman seemed to be having trouble getting any of them to say very much about the phone-hacking scandal.

Never blame the audience
When things go wrong in a presentation or speech, my advice, like that of many presentation trainers, is never blame the audience - because there's no such thing as a bad audience. And I think the same goes for TV news and current affairs programmes that try to get an audience involved in a discussion.

In fact, on this occasion, I can even claim to have been wise before the event. After an earlier tweet from Newsnight on Wednesday, I'd tweeted: "Oh dear, @BBCNewsnight trailing 'live studio audience' tonight - expect hopeless chairing and zzzzz..."

This was based on having seen many such programmes, in which the presenter shows little or no technical appreciation of how turn-taking works and how the implicit rules change according to how many people are involved - and how someone's ability to perform in a TV interview is not unrelated to their experience of being interviewed (or lack of it) - for more on which, see Clayman & Heritage, The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures on the Air (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

A multi-patched quilt
So what we got the other night was a patchwork quilt of a programme with far too many patches in it. In keeping with the modern myth that no one is capable of paying attention for more than a few seconds at a time, it kept switching at regular intervals between six quite distinct elements - of which the various attempts to involve the live audience, who were the only TV novices on the show, made up a mere sixth of the total:

1. Paxman + Newsnight political editor (1+1)
2. Paxman + cabinet minister (1+1)
3. Paxman + pundits (1+2)
4. Paxman + MPs (1+3)
5. Paxman + Audience (1+25)
6. Video footage from day's events.

The different colours highlight different sizes of group featured on the show - differences that inevitably involve different turn-taking rules - and depend for their success (or otherwise) on the participants, and especially the chair, having at least some tacit awareness of what they are.

The frequent flitting backwards and forwards between each of them made life difficult even for as experienced a presenter as Jeremy Paxman, let alone the inexperienced live audience. And, of all these permutations, ensuring effective turn-taking in such a large group is by far the most difficult.

Add to that the fact that the poor old audience kept being interrupted by cutaways to yet another few seconds of video film or by Paxman turning away to ask "what do you think, Danny?" and the attempt to pack such a miscellany of interviews, film footage and 'discussion' into 45 minutes, and is it any wonder that they came across as rather less than forthcoming?

I wasn't at all surprised that such such a format didn't work. But the last people I'd blame for that would be the audience in the Newsnight studio...

14 July 2011

Do journalists working for Murdoch feel like Peter Cook's take on working for Beaverbrook?


A couple of days ago, when I came across the video of Rupert Murdoch refusing to answer a question about the News of the World, I mentioned that I'd been searching YouTube for something else - that I'd been reminded of by recent events.

It was the above sketch from Beyond the Fringe in which Peter Cook describes what it was like working as a journalist for a press baron from an earlier age - Lord Beaverbrook, thinly disguised as 'The Beaver'.

Having tracked it down and listened to it again, I can't help wondering whether it strikes any chords with journalists working for the Murdoch media empire fifty years later...

P.S. I've just realised that this is the 800th post since starting the blog in September, 2008.

12 July 2011

Murdoch refuses to answer a question about the 'News of the World' on Fox News

video

As regular readers will know, I occasionally post interviews that strike me as interesting enough to share with a wider audience.

Today, while looking for something else on YouTube, I stumbled across this gem, broadcast about a year ago on News Corporation's Fox News (above).

The owner of the channel refuses to answer a question from one of his employees - whose deference towards his boss ("one of the biggest names there"; "Sir"; "No worries Mr Chairman, that's fine with me") is on a par with that shown by an interviewer from another age, who gave former prime minister Clement Attlee such an easy time more than half a century ago:

video

OTHER INTERESTING INTERVIEWS FROM MY ARCHIVES

10 July 2011

News of the World bows out by hacking into George Orwell - and misrepresenting what he said

The final editorial of the final edition of the News of the World began by making out that George Orwell was a fan of the newspaper. In case you missed it, you can read the whole thing, if you can bear its relentless hyperbole and self-congratulation, from a link posted below

July 10, 2011

"IT is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World."

These are the words of the great writer George Orwell. They were written in 1946 but
they have been the sentiments of most of the nation for well over a century and a half as this astonishing paper became part of the fabric of Britain, as central to Sunday as a roast dinner [my emphasis in red].
  • 'the sentiments of most of the nation for well over a century and a half '?
  • 'part of the fabric of Britain' ??
  • 'as central to Sunday as a roast dinner'???
Er - no, no and no!

I haven't ever seen - and can't think of - a single shred of evidence that would support any of these bizarre boasts - and you certainly won't find any if you read the rest of the editorial (HERE).

Plagiarism?
More intriguingly, the reference to Sunday roast dinner looks as though it was lifted from what Orwell said in the very next sentence after the one they quoted:

'... and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood...'

Was Orwell really a fan of the News of the World?
Even more intriguingly (or should that be 'even more typically/predictably'?), the editorial gives the impression that Orwell was a fan who was recommending the News of the World - and conveniently omits any reference to why he was planning to open the said newspaper:

'In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder...'

Nor, unsurprisingly, is there any mention of the fact that Orwell's interest was in murders that '... have been re-hashed over and over again by the Sunday papers...'

When I read the whole article by Orwell (see below), I was staggered at how appropriate it was that the News of the World's final editorial was such a fine example of the newspaper quoting someone so selectively, self-servingly and, fundamentally, misleadingly.

On this evidence, and as we'd have said when I was too young to be allowed to read the News of the World, it looks like a case of 'good riddance to bad rubbish.'

Yet, according to the surprising number of supposedly serious journalists who have devoted so much energy on Twitter bemoaning its passing, it seems that I may be missing something.

The article by George Orwell quoted in today's News of the World (from HERE)
'IT IS Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

'Naturally, about a murder. But what kind of murder? If one examines the murders which have given the greatest amount of pleasure to the British public, the murders whose story is known in its general outline to almost everyone and which have been made into novels and re-hashed over and over again by the Sunday papers, one finds a fairly strong family resemblance running through the greater number of them. Our great period in murder, our Elizabethan period, so to speak, seems to have been between roughly 1850 and 1925, and the murderers whose reputation has stood the test of time are the following: Dr. Palmer of Rugely, Jack the Ripper, Neill Cream, Mrs. Maybrick, Dr. Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and Bywaters and Thompson. In addition, in 1919 or thereabouts, there was another very celebrated case which fits into the general pattern but which I had better not mention by name, because the accused man was acquitted.

'Of the above-mentioned nine cases, at least four have had successful novels based on them, one has been made into a popular melodrama, and the amount of literature surrounding them, in the form of newspaper write-ups, criminological treatises and reminiscences by lawyers and police officers, would make a considerable library. It is difficult to believe that any recent English crime will be remembered so long and so intimately, and not only because the violence of external events has made murder seem unimportant, but because the prevalent type of crime seems to be changing. The principal cause célèbre of the war years was the so-called Cleft Chin Murder, which has now been written up in a popular booklet; the verbatim account of the trial was published some time last year by Messrs. Jarrolds with an introduction by Mr. Bechhofer Roberts. Before returning to this pitiful and sordid case, which is only interesting from a sociological and perhaps a legal point of view, let me try to define what it is that the readers of Sunday papers mean when they say fretfully that “you never seem to get a good murder nowadays”.

'In considering the nine murders I named above, one can start by excluding the Jack the Ripper case, which is in a class by itself. Of the other eight, six were poisoning cases, and eight of the ten criminals belonged to the middle class. In one way or another, sex was a powerful motive in all but two cases, and in at least four cases respectability—the desire to gain a secure position in life, or not to forfeit one’s social position by some scandal such as a divorce—was one of the main reasons for committing murder. In more than half the cases, the object was to get hold of a certain known sum of money such as a legacy or an insurance policy, but the amount involved was nearly always small. In most of the cases the crime only came to light slowly, as the result of careful investigations which started off with the suspicions of neighbours or relatives; and in nearly every case there was some dramatic coincidence, in which the finger of Providence could be clearly seen, or one of those episodes that no novelist would dare to make up, such as Crippen’s flight across the Atlantic with his mistress dressed as a boy, or Joseph Smith playing “Nearer, my God, to Thee” on the harmonium while one of his wives was drowning in the next room. The background of all these crimes, except Neill Cream’s, was essentially domestic; of twelve victims, seven were either wife or husband of the murderer.

'With all this in mind one can construct what would be, from a News of the World reader’s point of view, the “perfect” murder. The murderer should be a little man of the professional class—a dentist or a solicitor, say—living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Nonconformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man, and should only bring himself to the point of murder after long and terrible wrestles with his conscience. Having decided on murder, he should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and only slip up over some tiny unforeseeable detail. The means chosen should, of course, be poison. In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery. With this kind of background, a crime can have dramatic and even tragic qualities which make it memorable and excite pity for both victim and murderer. Most of the crimes mentioned above have a touch of this atmosphere, and in three cases, including the one I referred to but did not name, the story approximates to the one I have outlined.

'Now compare the Cleft Chin Murder. There is no depth of feeling in it. It was almost chance that the two people concerned committed that particular murder, and it was only by good luck that they did not commit several others. The background was not domesticity, but the anonymous life of the dance-halls and the false values of the American film. The two culprits were an eighteen-year-old ex-waitress named Elizabeth Jones, and an American army deserter, posing as an officer, named Karl Hulten. They were only together for six days, and it seems doubtful whether, until they were arrested, they even learned one another’s true names. They met casually in a teashop, and that night went out for a ride in a stolen army truck. Jones described herself as a strip-tease artist, which was not strictly true (she had given one unsuccessful performance in this line); and declared that she wanted to do something dangerous, “like being a gun-moll.” Hulten described himself as a big-time Chicago gangster, which was also untrue. They met a girl bicycling along the road, and to show how tough he was Hulten ran over her with his truck, after which the pair robbed her of the few shillings that were on her. On another occasion they knocked out a girl to whom they had offered a lift, took her coat and handbag and threw her into a river. Finally, in the most wanton way, they murdered a taxi-driver who happened to have £8 in his pocket. Soon afterwards they parted. Hulten was caught because he had foolishly kept the dead man’s car, and Jones made spontaneous confessions to the police. In court each prisoner incriminated the other. In between crimes, both of them seem to have behaved with the utmost callousness: they spent the dead taxi-driver’s £8 at the dog races.

'Judging from her letters, the girl’s case has a certain amount of psychological interest, but this murder probably captured the headlines because it provided distraction amid the doodle-bugs and the anxieties of the Battle of France. Jones and Hulten committed their murder to the tune of V1, and were convicted to the tune of V2. There was also considerable excitement because—as has become usual in England—the man was sentenced to death and the girl to imprisonment. According to Mr. Raymond, the reprieving of Jones caused widespread indignation and streams of telegrams to the Home Secretary: in her native town, “She should hang” was chalked on the walls beside pictures of a figure dangling from a gallows. Considering that only ten women have been hanged in Britain this century, and that the practice has gone out largely because of popular feeling against it, it is difficult not to feel that this clamour to hang an eighteen-year-old girl was due partly to the brutalizing effects of war. Indeed, the whole meaningless story, with its atmosphere of dance-halls, movie-palaces, cheap perfume, false names and stolen cars, belongs essentially to a war period.

'Perhaps it is significant that the most talked-of English murder of recent years should have been committed by an American and an English girl who had become partly Americanized. But it is difficult to believe that this case will be so long remembered as the old domestic poisoning dramas, product of a stable society where the all-prevailing hypocrisy did at least ensure that crimes as serious as murder should have strong emotions behind them.'

Other Phone-hacking related posts:

With video evidence like this from News International, what are the police waiting for?


Establishing who in News International knew what and paid how much to whom for hacking which phones will presumably keep the police busy for quite a while. But why are they waiting to press charges against at least two of those who paid the police for information?

After all, this video evidence - legally obtained as they answered questions at a parliamentary select committee in 2003 - of CEO Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson admitting that they paid police for information has been on the record for years.

At the time of writing this post, the above clip has been viewed 52,891 times on YouTube (up, interestingly, by more than 2,000 since yesterday) - and I find it difficult to believe that none of the viewers were officers of the Metropolitan Police.

So, if paying the police for information is illegal, how come neither of these people has been charged with committing the offence which both of them so openly admitted to all those years ago?

7 July 2011

James Murdoch backs Rebekah Brooks, but not without pausing every 2 seconds

"Apparently, James Murdoch went to the School of Lawyerish Non-speak, and passed with high honors!"
Denise Graveline (@dontgetcaught) via Twitter, yesterday.

I've blogged before about something that conversation analysts call 'pre-delicate hitches' (for more examples of which, see the list of posts below).

‘Hitches’ are things like pauses, ‘ers’ and ‘ums', restarts of a word that had been aborted, etc. They tend to occur at points in a conversation where you're leading towards a topic or a word (or it could be news, gossip, a swear word, obscenity, joke, etc.) that's likely to come across as rather delicate, controversial or even offensive to whomsoever you happen to be talking to.

The general argument is that we use such ‘hitches’ to let our hearer(s) know that we know that they too might find what we're saying rather 'delicate'.

One pause every two seconds
So I wasn't at all surprised to see that James Murdoch's backing of Rebekah Brooks yesterday (a delicate topic if ever there was one) was punctuated by 24 pauses in 48 seconds - although, like Denise Graveline (above), I was fairly appalled by his use of transparent and proactive 'lawyerish non-speak'.

Apart from the high pause rate in this particular clip, I also enjoyed "I am satisfied" and "I think", neither of which sounded as confident or certain as he perhaps should have done under the circumstances. Note also the slight hesitation "are-are.." before coming up with his assessment of her standard of ethics and conduct as "very good".

The question put to Murdoch (3.40 seconds into the full 16 minute interview HERE) was the interviewer's second attempt to get an answer:

"My question was is it really conceivable - you're asking people, in looking people in they eye and saying 'look, she and others in her position did not know that you were paying out enormous sums of money to these people' and what I'm saying is 'is that really conceivable?'"

After delaying for about 1 second, Murdoch starts to reply (slash marks in the transcript below indicate pauses of different duration):


Murdoch: "I am satisfied ///that Rebekah//her leadership of this business//and her//standard of ethics/and her standard of conduct/throughout her career//are-are very good/and I think/ what she's shown and what what we have shown//with our actions//around/transparently and proactively working with the police//Recall/it's the///process of information discovery//that we went through//proactively and voluntarily/that actually started these investigations /to be opened again by the police//earlier this year//It's the proactive and transparent handing over of information to the police/to aid them in their inquiries around payments to the police and things like that actually/she has led/and this company has led."

Related posts on pre-delicate hitches

96% of BBC television news of phone-hacking ignored the House of Commons debate

My optimism about the televising of the phone-hacking debate in the House of Commons yesterday was, as I feared, short-lived (HERE). I'd ended my post on it with an open question about Chris Bryant, M.P., whose speech had opened proceedings.

"Whether or not we'll get to see any more of him (or any of the other speakers in the debate) on prime-time television news programmes tonight, of course, remains to be seen..."

Answer = 36 seconds
Impressive speech though Bryant's may have been, only 14 seconds of it made it on to BBC 's News at 10 last night (still available HERE on iPlayer). And all we got to see from the other speakers in the debate was 22 seconds of the speech by Tom Watson, M.P. Of the Attorney General's speech, we saw 0 seconds.

So a paltry 4% of the 15 minutes of news devoted to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal came from the important debate between our elected members of parliament.

PMQs more important than a proper parliamentary debate?
If the weekly exchanges between the prime minister and leader of the opposition count as 'speeches', the BBC showed us more than twice as much of Cameron (46 seconds) and Miliband (38 seconds) in action than of Bryant and Watson in the main debate - i.e. nearly 10% of the 15 minutes on phone-hacking.

And this is one of the (many) things that strikes me as so depressing about the media's coverage of politics. Compared with the rowdy Punch & Judy show of prime minister's question time, yesterday's debate (on the same subject) showed our MPs at their best - making serious and carefully argued points in a very reasonable and civilised manner.

With the BBC preferring to broadcast (at our expense) rowdiness rather than reason from the House of Commons, is it any wonder that our politicians are held in such low repute?

Meanwhile, "the BBC encourages you to embed its video and audio on your website" (as we're told in the instructions at Democracy Live).

This raises the interesting question of whether the BBC has decided not to bother showing much from speeches on its prime-time news programmes because anyone with a computer can watch the whole 3 hour debate online (as here):

6 July 2011

Phone-hacking debate brings speeches back to our TV screens - at least for a few hours

After years of writing and blogging about the reluctance of British television news programmes to broadcast much from speeches (e.g. HERE & HERE), I was delighted that, for today at least, we were allowed to watch the House of Commons debate on phone-hacking live, continuously and without any intervention by reporters telling us what the speakers were saying - and to be able do so simultaneously on three channels, BBC News 24, BBC Parliament and Sky News.

It's a very long time since this has happened, and I'm hoping that it could mark a significant change in the attitude of broadcasters towards speeches and doesn't merely turn out to be a rare exception that proves a rule.

Given my suggestion that interviews have taken over from speeches as the main means of political communication in the UK as a result of collusion between politicians and the media, I was particularly struck by the first 30 seconds of this clip from the opening speech by Chris Bryant, M.P., who also seems worried about our politicians colluding with the media.

Whether or not we'll get to see any more of him (or any of the other speakers in the debate) on prime-time television news programmes tonight, of course, remains to be seen...


P.S. You can now watch the whole of this 3 hour debate (and find out how much of it was shown on BBC Television's News at 10) in the next blog post HERE.

4 July 2011

American woman rises to the occasion with a speech on 4th July


I know that there are other bloggers like Angela DeFinis (@AngelaDeFinis) and Marion Chapsal (@marionchapsal), who are always on the lookout for examples of effective speech-making and presentation by women leaders.

Previously, I've posted some thoughts on former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg.

Today, at the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan outside the US embassy in London, the speech by Condoleezza Rice (above) struck me as being both just right for the occasion and well-worth adding to my collection.

Is bronze the best way to commemorate Ronald Reagan, even on 4th July?

With Twitter and the blogosphere (in the UK) full of murmers about the pros and cons of Americans in London marking both the 4th July and Ronald Reagan's centenary by placing a statue of him outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, I thought I'd put on record (again) my admiration of him as a great speaker.

As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any strong feelings about whether such a statue of him is a good idea, other than that bronze does not strike me as being as appropriate a medium for commemorating a great communicator as video.

Back in April, on what would have been his 100th birthday, I recommended any serious student of public speaking to read and learn from a blog by former Reagan speechwriter Clark Judge (HERE), and have reproduced some extracts from that earlier post below the following selection of 'must-sees' from the maestro, starting with the speech that first brought him to wider public notice, three years before he became Governor of California in 1967.

1. The Speech, 1964


2. Pointe du Hoc, 40th anniversary of D-day, 1984



3. Mondale's youth and inexperience, 1984



4. Challenger disaster, 1986


5. Tear down this wall, Berlin, 1987


6. How to recover if the teleprompter lets you down (on which, more HERE)

video

FROM MY EARLIER BLOG POST:

Under-estimated by the British?
The case of Ronald Reagan is an interesting one, because his appeal never seemed to go down as well on British ears as it did on those of his fellow Americans. Whether this was because his presidency coincided with the success of ITV's satirical puppet show Spitting Image, in which the then president was regularly featured as being a bit short in the brain department, I do not know.

But what I do know is that the writers and producers of Spitting Image were not alone among British audiences and commentators in underestimating Reagan's achievements, both as a communicator and as a politician.

That's why I've always been fascinated by him and by talking to and reading articles by people who actually knew him - and is also why I'd recommend speechwriters and anyone else with a serious interest in communication the read Clark Judge's article on Ronald Reagan at 100.

Meanwhile, and by way of a taster, here are a few extracts from the article likely to be of special interest to speechwriters:

Analyse the audience
Former Reagan aide and speechwriter, now California congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, tells of a campaign stop involving a grade school class of blind children. After reporters had left for their bus, Reagan stayed behind and asked the teacher if the children would like to feel his face. The teacher said they would be thrilled. So for a few minutes, without publicity, the children got to “see” him in the only way they could.

Storytelling
Reagan’s storytelling was part of his public persona. In speeches, he used humor and anecdotes to make points. But in small gatherings, what might be called an economy of the story (that is, an exchange of value) was often at play. White House aides would become exasperated in meetings with outsiders as the president told tales they had sat through frequently before. They never considered the dynamics of those meetings. The president heard whatever the visitors had come to say. He absorbed their information, opinions, or requests (the value he derived from the meeting). Meanwhile, his stories left his guests feeling responded to and confided in (the value they derived). He did this without saying anything that might surprise or embarrass him if it appeared in the press, or that committed him to policies he might think better of later. Both sides gained. He risked nothing.

Preparation
Reagan had numerous devices for controlling risk. These included the famous staff-prepared talking points for even trivial events and the tape on each stage floor telling him where to stand. He expected staff to think through every detail of an appearance.

It was widely known that the formal White House staffing system put the president last in line to see most speech drafts. Few knew that he put himself first for reviewing the most sensitive addresses, especially ones dealing with the Soviet Union. This was true of at least one of the Soviet-specific speeches I drafted. It was true of Peter Robinson’s 1987 “Tear Down This Wall” draft. Only after the president had seen them were the texts distributed, when, for Soviet speeches in particular, furious fights often developed. With others carrying the battle, the president would remain politically untouched. But he had already set the boundaries for an acceptable outcome. In the case of “Tear Down This Wall,” the chief and deputy chief of staff, communications director, and speechwriters knew he had marked as untouchable the call for dismantling the Berlin Wall—but only they knew.'

1 July 2011

Ed Miliband lands on a snake



The Snakes & Ladders theory of political communication strikes again
Eighteen months ago, I asked the question 'do interviews ever deliver anything but bad news for politicians?' as a prelude to summarising the Snakes and Ladders theory of political communication, first aired in a joint paper by John Heritage and me at a conference on the 1987 general election.

The general argument was that speeches work like 'ladders' that can move politicians up towards a winning position on the board, whereas interviews work like 'snakes' that can only move them downwards (for more on which see links below).

Miliband lands on a snake
Twitter and the blogosphere have been so alive with negative comments about this interview with Ed Miliband on yesterday's public sector strikes (see samples below) that it must surely count as a classic case of a politician suffering from landing on a snake - and it will certainly be included among my specimens if I ever have the chance of giving an updated version of the original paper.

It is also one of the reasons why I continue to be baffled by the willingness of British politicians to go along with the decision of the British media to banish oratory to the sidelines and put interviews in pole position.

What neither the media nor politicians seem to understand is that most interviews are utterly tedious for audiences and can be extremely risky for interviewees - as Mr Miliband and his supporters have been finding out the hard way.

Tweets on the interview from Labour supporters
"Repetition is a key rhetorical device, but this is bonkers! It's the WEIRDEST political interview I've ever seen!" - @MartinShovel

"Ed shoot the adviser who told you to stick to the message & keep repeating it - I think they might be a plant from Tory HQ. What a disaster!" - @MartinShovel

"This video has been viewed a frankly embarrassing number of times on LabourList and God knows how many times on the bbc" - @Markfergusonuk

"We're not arguing that it went viral for a good reason" - @Markfergusonuk

Blogs on the interview worth a read
Was Milliband set up by BBC? - Alex Folkes (LibDem supporter)
Ed Miliband's media fail - Shane Greer (Tory supporter)


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