The Prime-Time President

A president, especially one very gifted in public speaking, can move mountains simply by going on television and appealing directly to the people. (Much, much more effective than hiring a Tom Daschle or anyone else.)

Reagan's experience as an actor on the screen and on television gave him an enormous advantage as politics moved fully into its television era. His mastery of the television medium earned for him the title, "the great communicator."He perfected the art of "going public," appealing to the American public on television to put pressure on Congress to support his policies. The rhetoric of this "prime-time president" suited television perfectly. Whether delivering a State of the Union address, eulogizing the crew of the Challenger, or speaking directly to the nation about his strategic defense initiative he captured the audience's attention by appealing to shared values, creating a vision of a better future, telling stories of heroes, evoking memories of a mythic past, exuding a spirit of "can-do" optimism, and converting complex issues into simple language the people could understand and enjoy.

(emphasis added)

Museum of Broadcast Communications

Our current president could do the same thing as Ronald Reagan did. He could go on TV in prime time. Explain his stimulus plan (or healthcare plan, or energy plan) in simple terms.  Illustrate how the plan makes sense with everyday examples. Be compelling. Appeal to patriotism, to our common goals as Americans to move the country forward. Urge all Americans, Democrats and Republicans and Independents, to write and e-mail and call their Representatives and Senators.  Urge Americans to tell Congress, especially the loyal opposition in Congress, to support this sensible plan. United we stand...

President Obama's career has been as a legislator. He's already accustomed to the tools and strategies of that arena. As president, he now must become accustomed to using a powerful new tool - the bully pulpit.  The sooner, the better.

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24: A Thriller With Few Surprises

The torture-filled FOX network TV program "24" began on Sunday night. "24" shows more scenes of abusive interrogation than any other program on TV. It can be seen - in some respects - as a one-hour advertisement for torture. Torture always works and virtually every episode shows at least one terrorist reveal critical secrets soon after the pain begins. Though the vast majority of the more than 12 million people who tune in recognize that the program is just meant to be entertaining, there is disturbing evidence that suggests all this torture is having an impact.

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24, Torture, and the Obama Age

This Sunday night, Fox's show "24" returns with a new season after a 20 month hiatus. As the New York Times points out, Jack Bauer finds himself in a different United States at the dawn of 2009 - the "age of Obama" - as do the rest of us. Bauer, an archetype of the Bush years, was embraced by the country when "24" debuted just after 9/11, as a hero "who did not stop to ask questions about legal niceties in his pursuit of the bad guys."

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An idea for a new Obama TV ad

A friend and I, while chatting on the phone this evening, may have thought-up a new, relevant and powerful Obama campaign television ad that would cost very little to produce, and would speak volumes. Even if impractical, it's at least humorous... to Democrats, anyway.

You're going to need to use your imagination, though, to see in your mind what I'm about to describe... so put on your imagination caps.

We've all seen the nonsensical, incoherent CNN video of Palin introducing at least some of us to the word "fungible" while trying to explain to us energy concepts which are clearly unclear to her. (Judging by the look on McCain's face in the background, they would appear to have been unclear to him, as well. Then again, it doesn't really take all that much for him to achieve that state... but I digress. Sorry.)



In your head, edit-out of that video all but Palin's part. Just edit the Wolf Blitzer bookended parts right out of the video in your mind's eye, and imagine a short video clip of just what Palin said. We'll call that the "Palin video."

Now imagine a new Obama television ad the goes something like this:

Medium fade from black to the Palin video, then at its conclusion fade fast back to black.

Once fully black, fast fade a single line of text centered on the screen in a white Times Roman medium-weight font the words "Res ipsa loquitur" with a period after it, and hold for four seconds, then fast fade to black.

Once fully black, fast fade a one-eighth frame sized centered still headshot of Obama's smiling face, while Obama as voiceover says,"I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this ad," then fade to black and end commercial.

MoveOn.org should do it, don't you think?

No News Is Bad News: TV and the Political Conventions

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

    During the time that Bill Clinton was rocking the Democratic convention, ABC, CBS, and Fox were showing re-runs, NBC was showing the second hour of "America's Got Talent," and the CW was showing the second season finale of "Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious."

    Less than two decades ago, the networks gave the conventions gavel-to-gavel coverage. This year, the networks are giving only four hours prime time coverage to each convention.

    The first televised conventions were in Philadelphia in 1948. At the time, only about 170,000 of the nation's 42.2 million households had televisions. The networks, desperate to fill their government-issued airwaves, begged the nation to believe that television was at the cutting edge of the future. TV needed politicians; politicians weren't so sure they needed TV. By 1960, more than 46 million of the nation's 58 million households had at least one TV set, and most stations were broadcasting at least 16 hours a day. If anyone doubted the potential and power of television, it was quashed that year during the televised Nixon-Kennedy debates which gave the Massachusetts senator a lead he never lost. Eight years later, the cameras recorded the Chicago riots, giving credibility to the antiwar movement and virtually destroying the Democrats' chance to defeat Richard Nixon, even though the liberal Hubert Humphrey deplored the police response and Mayor Richard Daley's iron fist tactics.

    Once, the parties' nominees for president were usually determined at the convention itself, not months earlier in the media-enhanced primary campaigns. On the floor of the convention, we at home, watching on 17-inch TV sets, looked forward to the roll call, as each state's chairman stood up, usually dressed in something red-white-and outrageous, and declared for all America to hear, something to the effect: "Mr. Chairman, the great and glorious state of  Globule Gulch, home of more than 50 hotdog stands per square mile and the most beautiful women on earth, the place where George Washington once slept and where cows peacefully graze on our healthy grass, proudly casts it 85 votes for its favorite son, Governor Lushpuppy Billings."

    By the late 1980s, TV demanded more and more, and the party leaders began to stage prime time shows to play to TV's prime-time necessities.

    Gone are the spontaneous floor events where delegates march, laugh, maybe argue with each other, and actually participate in helping shape the direction of their party, even when the nominee was an incumbent president. Does anyone hear about the party's platform and its planks now? Does anyone even care? The signs on the convention floor are cookie-cutter conformity. The delegates are nothing more than props. Their role is to go to the myriad lobbyist-prepared parties, have fun, and act as extras for the show unfolding before them, and then go home and rally the grassroots support.

    Last week, Barack Obama and his campaign staff controlled every aspect of the convention, including who would be the speakers, what and how they would say it, when each would appear and for how long. Only President Clinton's speech wasn't vetted. It won't be any different this week with the Republicans, but the Republicans may have to check President Bush's speech ahead of time, 'lest it become more comedic than planned.

    It was the television media that created the atmosphere that demanded "interesting visuals" and the seven-second sound bite; and now the media are upset that politicians, in their infomercial packaged conventions that play to the camera, have nothing to say. The networks, which created the monster, are crying there isn't any news--and they cut away from what is interesting, such as the speech by President Clinton--and turn the cameras onto themselves. The pontificating pundits with their semi-erudite commentaries and all-knowing blather that bores viewers more than any politician's 20-minute speech, now dominate the prime time coverage and pretend what they're saying actually matters. It's hard to believe that 16,000 members of the media credentialed to cover each convention couldn't find any news.

    But, there is news. There are stories. The networks, sitting on their plush assets, have failed to dig out these stories to better help Americans understand the issues that affect them. And so the celebrity-driven media spent more time percolating the story of the division between the Hillary and Obama forces than trying to help Americans better understand the issues. If the mainstream media were to leave their color-coordinated broadcast booths and hospitality suites, as the alternative media have done, and dig beneath the puffery and pageantry, they may find the greater social and political issues that need to be reported, as well as the delightful "slice of life" stories that help us better understand our own lives.

    The first TV conventions were the best of the emerging Reality TV programming before the medium sunk into who would eat what disgusting insect. America needs both the conventions and the media to be more real.

[Walter Brasch's latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]

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