Schroeder, alan

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Minutos de oro en los debates presidenciales estadounidenses.

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Schroeder, alan

  1. 1.   1  “GOLDEN MOMENTS IN TELEVISED CAMPAIGN DEBATES” Lecture by Alan Schroeder Asociacion Comunicacion Politica -- Bilbao, June 2010 In about 70 countries around the world candidates for national office have walked that most dangerous of tight-ropes: live televised debates. TV debates take place in countries large and small, in every conceivable format, under a vast variety of political and media conditions. Yet one universal truth has emerged: debates function as television shows first, and political events second. Debates are theater, complete with drama, stars and supporting players, rehearsals, performances, reviews, and – above all -- risk. This year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the historic first debate in Chicago between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the patron saints of TV debates. According to the mythology, Kennedy won because he looked better on camera. But it was more than that: Nixon completely misunderstood the event, approaching it as just another campaign appearance instead of a revolutionary new television genre. Where Kennedy held practice sessions with his staff, Nixon read briefing books alone. Where Kennedy met personally with
  2. 2.   2  the debate producer before the event, Nixon sent a surrogate. Where Kennedy rested the day of the broadcast, Nixon gave a speech. On every conceivable level Kennedy got it and Nixon did not. But let us travel beyond Kennedy and Nixon to consider other, more recent examples of televised debates from around the world. Our focus is on the golden moments that define this increasingly important institution – and our global tour begins in South America. The absolute minimum requirement for any debater is to show up. However, in 2008 Paraguayan presidential contender Fernando Lugo proved that it is possible to dominate a debate even in absentia. In an act of sheer audacity Lugo canceled his appearance in the final debate with one hour’s notice. In a press release hand-delivered to the set Lugo declared that “political conditions did not exist” for his participation. Here is how the moderator, Paraguayan journalist Humberto Rubin, reacted. *** CLIP #1: LUGO’S NO-SHOW (1:30): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV5QbR1USf0 Note: Play the first 1:30 of the clip. In this case the political risk paid off: Fernando Lugo is today the president of Paraguay. But it’s not a strategy I would recommend. For Peruvian candidate Ollanta Humala in 2006, the issue was not a boycott of the debate, but rather a late arrival. Humala found
  3. 3.   3  himself physically blocked him from reaching the debate hall by supporters of his opponent, Alan Garcia. Meanwhile, Garcia started the debate anyway, telling the Peruvian people that Humala had stopped at a bar for a sandwich. Finally, twenty minutes late, Humala showed up – and that’s when things got even stranger. *** CLIP #2: HUMALA’S FLAG (1:15) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju7ocGU5BKg&feature=PlayList&p =A9B8F55DEE8DF3FE&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=4 Note: Play the first 1:15 of the clip. Most candidates find it advantageous to debate their opponents, not the moderator. A well-delivered jab at a fellow debater is like catnip to the audience and to the media, as we see in perhaps the most famous of all debate putdowns: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” What makes this line so effective, in my opinion, is Lloyd Bentsen’s ability to make it sound spontaneous, even though he had been prepared for the situation. At a campaign rally a few weeks before the debate Dan Quayle had compared himself to John F. Kennedy. Opposition researchers in the crowd took note, and passed the information to Bentsen’s debate team. As you watch the clip, pay particular attention to the crowd reaction, then I’ll tell you the back-story. *** CLIP #3: “YOU’RE NO JACK KENNEDY” (1:15) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecIPpi8XCqs Note: Start the clip at 2:15, play through to the end.
  4. 4.   4  Now, about that crowd reaction: In American presidential debates there is a three-way distribution of tickets for seats in the debate hall: a third go to the sponsor, a third to the Democrats, and a third to the Republicans. For this debate, which was held in a huge convention hall in Omaha, the Democrats loaded the audience with die-hard Bentsen supporters and organized them into cheering sections. Their behavior was so rowdy that the rules were changed, and today Democrats no longer sit with Democrats and Republicans with Republicans. Audience members are deliberately interspersed — no more red states and blue states. Bentsen-Quayle reminds us that in America, at least, vice presidential debates are usually more entertaining than their presidential counterparts. Let’s revisit 2008 and the very beginning of the highly entertaining Sarah Palin-Joe Biden debate. This little exchange illustrates how easy it can be for viewers of TV debates to misread what they see. *** CLIP #4: “CAN I CALL YOU JOE?” (:30) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89FbCPzAsRA Note: Start clip at about 1:00, where the candidates are introduced, play for another :30. As I watched this scene on live television, I interpreted it as a tactical maneuver: Palin attempting to rattle Biden at the last minute. But as it turns out, something else was going on. During her practice sessions Palin had developed a bad habit of mixing up the names
  5. 5.   5  Biden and Obama, referring to her opponent as “Senator O’Biden.” Calling him “Joe” during the debate was Palin’s way of avoiding this mistake on the air – though she actually did slip once during the program and say “O’Biden.” Because debates are theatrical exercises, their success or failure depends heavily on casting – in other words, the co-stars make the show. One of the most interesting combinations, as we found with Palin and Biden, happens when men debate women. Perhaps the best-known – and most contentious – example comes from France in 2007. *** CLIP #5: SARKOZY/ROYAL (1:10) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8YHzsOiSBQ&feature=related Note: Play the first 1:10 of the clip. Things could have been much worse for Sarkozy and Royal. Consider this classic moment from a debate between two senate candidates in Romania — a clip that has become a YouTube favorite. *** CLIP #6: WATER GLASS (:36) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay2bQaQyQGQ Note: Play entire clip. I hardly need to remind this audience that political campaigns are all about control. Yet by definition live television cannot be controlled – which is what makes debates so perilous for everyone involved. For years, paranoid handlers have attempted to manage the visual look of debates by restricting camera angles. We saw this most
  6. 6.   6  recently a couple of months ago in Britain. But the camera has a way of seeing things on its own terms, as many a candidate has learned the hard way. Exhibit A: *** CLIP #7: BUSH LOOKS AT WATCH http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ffbFvKlWqE Note: Play the first :10 of the clip. Bush checking his watch is such a tiny gesture, and yet for the audience and the news media it became emblematic. And of course we later learned from Bush himself that he really did want the debate to be over. Debaters must assume that they will be on camera at all times. Bill Clinton understood this: he used to practice his facial expressions for those moments when he would be on screen but not speaking. To an increasing degree, debate formats require candidates to remain on camera non-stop, as in this 2010 presidential debate from Costa Rica, “Asi Va el Debate.” *** CLIP #8: COSTA RICA SPLIT SCREEN (1:30) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lpytRC9utE Note: Play the first 1:30 of the clip. That chiming sound at the end of the segment is not so unusual. As I watch debates from around the world, I am struck by how much they have in common with game shows, especially in their formats and visual style. Let’s look at two examples: first, from the Netherlands in
  7. 7.   7  2006 and second, from the Philippines last year. The Dutch program is called “Speed Debate.” *** CLIP #9: NETHERLANDS “SPEED DEBATE” (1:20) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WimtPkgFznU Note: Play the first 1:20 of the clip. *** CLIP #10: FILIPINO GAME SHOW DEBATE (1:00) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Qyzw3O5qo&feature=related Note: Play about the first 1:00 of the clip. Whatever the format, successful TV debaters must know how to seize any opportunity that presents itself. Here is one of the masters, Bill Clinton, in the town hall debate of 1992. Watching this man in action, you realize why during the pre-debate negotiations he was the one to suggest this format. *** CLIP #11: CLINTON TOWN HALL DEBATE (1:45) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ffbFvKlWqE Note: Play the woman’s question at the beginning of the clip, then advance to 2:30 where Clinton answers, play through the end. Journalists often ask me to name the best presidential debater in history, and my answer is Bill Clinton. The only American politician who even comes close, interestingly enough, is Hillary Clinton, who was terrific during the 2008 primaries – much better than Barack Obama. Hillary did Obama a huge favor by toughening him up for his debates with John McCain. This year a new star debater was born: Nick Clegg in the United Kingdom’s first-ever prime ministerial debates. He’s not quite at the Clinton level, but especially in this first of the three British debates,
  8. 8.   8  Clegg turned in a first-rate performance. Watch how fluent he is in playing to the camera. *** CLIP #12: NICK CLEGG IN UK PM DEBATES (1:12) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=438MjQfF04Q&feature=channel Note: Play the first 1:12 of the clip – note that there may be a short ad at the beginning. The latest trend in TV debates is for citizens to ask the questions, as opposed to journalists. This started with the American town hall debate in 1992, the one where Bush looked at his watch and Clinton bonded with the audience. Now we have the You Tube format, which debuted in the U.S. in 2008, and also that same year in the party leaders’ debate in New Zealand. In this format, voters submit their questions on video. *** CLIP #13: NEW ZEALAND YOUTUBE DEBATE (1:30) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB5fQQsNv_g&feature=related Note: Play about the first 1:30 of the clip. Citizen videos add an element of unpredictability to an already unpredictable situation, because the questions can come from anyone – or anything. Two final examples, first from the United States in 2008 -- and second, from a presidential debate entitled “Yo Pregunto,” held just last month in Colombia. *** CLIP #14: YOUTUBE TALKING SNOWMAN (:35) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K8GVAAOzMk Note: Play the first :35 of the clip. *** CLIP #15: “YO PREGUNTO” TALKING DOLL (:20) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET9HnqqQIx8 Note: Play the full clip.
  9. 9.   9  Although I sincerely hope that the future of campaign debates does not depend on talking snowmen and dolls, these questions remind us that candidates must be prepared for every contingency. Fifty years of TV debates have taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most important lesson is this: live television will always have a mind of its own.

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