Body language hits the front page!


As the IQ points burn: On the New York Times op-ed page, we get this lengthy piece about Tuesday night’s debate.

Essentially, it’s an etiquette lesson on interruption. In the Times, Romney’s tax proposal got 1200 words. Today, this topic gets almost as much.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it!

Then too, consider this front-page report in today’s Washington Post.

A CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK, it importantly says. Below that, we get the headline. Soon, through the help of Sarah Kaufman, the IQ points start to burn:
KAUFMAN (10/18/12): In a battle of body language, is there an upper hand?

During the second presidential debate Tuesday night, the round red-carpeted floor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., resembled a boxing ring more than a stage. And frequently, substance took some unexpected blows.

Who won? Who knows? The rematch of Obama vs. Romney was a great night for physical theater. Rhetoric was sidelined by spectacle. At times, the thinly veiled aggression grew so hot—with President Obama and Mitt Romney closing in on each other like streetfighters—that you wondered if the two would come to fisticuffs.
Kaufman is a journalist at a major American newspaper. Did she really wonder if Obama and Romney “would come to fisticuffs” Tuesday night?

If so, could someone please lead her away? If not, why does she—why does the Post—want this on the front page?

Every part of this front-page report helps explain why our nation is dying. This is the kind of analysis the Post now wants on its front page:
KAUFMAN: The evening began awkwardly, as soon as the president and Romney took the floor. With the audience applauding them, Obama turned to sit. Romney stood, beaming. Obama rose to half-standing. Romney held his ground. As the camera drew back, here was our first view of the two candidates: Romney solidly on two feet, the president stooped and uncertain, with one foot hooked around his chair leg.
If you still don’t know why your culture is dying, you may never figure it out!

Yesterday afternoon, in the car, we listened to Talk of the Nation. At one time, this was considered one of the nation’s brightest news programs.

Yesterday, though, we heard the following, live and direct from Neal Conan:
CONAN (10/17/12): NPR senior strategist for social media, Andy Carvin, joined us by smartphone from Burtonsville, Maryland.
Did you know that NPR has a “senior strategist for social media?” Yesterday, this strategist killed an amazing amount of time with bullshit about the debate:
CONAN: Joining us now, NPR social media guru Andy Carvin, among the people behind The Back Channel, NPR's online debate behind the debate. The site follows what's happening on social media during the presidential debate. He joins us now by smartphone from Burtonsville in Maryland.

Andy, nice to have you back.

CARVIN: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And how long did it take binders full of women to light up on Twitter?

CARVIN: Probably about 30 seconds. As soon as he said it, I saw a number of people posting the phrase with a lot of question marks associated with it. Then the jokes started coming. And probably within a few minutes after that, a number of Twitter accounts popped up. You now have a Facebook group called Romney Binders Full of Women that is just a couple hundred people shy of 300,000 fans. It's actually kind of amazing how this took off as a social media phenomenon last night.

CONAN: And at the top of The Back Channel page today, a photo of Hugh Hefner that's making the rounds with the caption, binders full of women? Sure. I've got hundreds of them.


CARVIN: Exactly. People really got into it. And whether it was writing pithy tweets or coming up with photos with captions on them, there was certainly no shortage of humor last night when it came to that particular phrase.

CONAN: Any other moments that particularly attracted a lot of attention?

CARVIN: Well, at the very beginning of the debate, there was a young man named Jeremy who asked the first question, and he was a college student. And a number of people picked up on him because he seemed a little nervous, though he certainly did his best to ask his question. Several people commented that they thought that they had attended his Bar Mitzvah not too long ago. When another young woman came up to ask her question, people started making jokes about setting them up for a date. And so that lasted probably for the first 20 minutes of the debate. But by the time binders full of women kicked into high gear, it was really no turning back.

CONAN: And is much of the content humor and sometimes snarky humor?
Good question! This “strategizing,” once called bullshit, went on for a very long time.

We are a very stupid people. Time was, this sort of thing wasn’t allowed.

Now, this bullshit is stealing us blind. Look around! Are you saying we’re wrong?

One suggestion: Next time, could Carvin join us by regular phone? We don't think the smartphone worked.


  1. Several years ago I heard Neal Conan interview Al Gore on NPR. It was the most gawdawful thing I ever heard. Conan hit him with a series of ridiculous right-wing talking points trying to show Gore as a liar and hypocrite. These included questions about Gore polluting the planet riding around in a jet talking about global warming and owning a large mansion. I swear that Conan asked not one single solitary substantive question. It was so outrageous that I tried immediately to call NPR to complain but this was a Saturday afternoon and the media are never home on the weekends. Ever since then I have held Neal Conan in utter contempt as a little right-wing sneak.

  2. Well, Tagg Romney said he wanted to take a swing at Obama that night for calling his father a liar.

    But later a spokesman said he was only kidding, the standard Republican statement when they get called out on saying something atrocious.

    1. While acknowledging that Tagg is an adult, I wouldn't make too much about that remark. Write him off as a dimwit and move on.

      But it is certainly an admission that his daddy was getting his figurative tail figuratively whupped.

    2. Yeah that's real atrocious

  3. I loved the comment about smartphones ... they are not making us real smart.

  4. Sarah Kaufman needs someone to 'get in her face' over such crap. I don't live anywhere near Washington but I intend to send off a 'scorcher' to her if possible, or if not her, to one of The Post's editors tomorrow.

  5. Analysis of the role of gesture, demeanor, mode of delivery, and other elements of debate and oratory need not be journalistic fluff but, in fact, is necessary to weighing a debate or speech fully. (This has been true since the beginnings of formal rhetoric, by the way, since at least fifth century Greece.) Tannen's NYT piece was at least a decent effort in that direction (well, it began as one, but then went off in too many directions -- lost its nerve). Unfortunately, most analyses of this sort in newspapers and on TV amount to either fluffy, pop psychology or partisan special pleading. More unfortunately, they too often overwhelm analysis of the actual arguments in a debate or speech.