Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Disembodied Voices, Talking Heads

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 664

Yesterday I attended the Good Morning America healthcare forum with Hillary Clinton. The show was broadcast from the Science Center of Iowa, which turned out to be a great venue for the event. The audience numbered about 200 people, about 45 of whom were, like myself, invited guests of the Clinton campaign. As an aside, it wasn’t at all hard to get an invite; I simply asked a Clinton campaign staffer at last week’s off-year caucus to put me on the list of people who wanted to attend, and a few days later I got the call. Lesson: in politics, you don’t get it unless you tell somebody you want it.

The event ran from 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM, which meant starting my day at the insane hour of 3:30 in the morning (groans…muttered imprecations…fumbling for tea). I arrived at SCI a little before 5:00, to join a couple of dozen people already inside. By 5:30, there was a line of people outside, waiting to get in. Incredible! A line of people standing in the pre-dawn darkness waiting to get inside the Science Center in Des Moines, Iowa: if you have ever wondered what is meant when Hillary Clinton is referred to as a “rock star” candidate, there’s your answer.

Once inside, the audience was put into a staging area in the SCI cafĂ©, where the production staff would periodically arrive to summon groups of people onto the set. Notably, one of these groups consisted of people pre-selected to ask questions. So, yes, the questions that were broadcast during the show appear to have been entirely pre-selected, either by ABC, or the Clinton campaign, or both. That’s show biz.

There’s a distinct difference between a political rally and a televised interview. The former is the realm of the sound bite, the latter that of disembodied voices and talking heads. It is as strange as it sounds; once the audience was seated and the production crew had taken their places and the host had come out and taken her place on the stage, voices started flowing from nowhere and everywhere - Diane Sawyer’s voice from New York speaking to Robin Roberts, and Robin answering back into the ether, the patter introducing the topic of today’s particular show. Not that different from a telephone conference call at work, I guess, only made strange by the fact that you know it’s being seen and heard by millions of people while you experience it from your plastic audience chair in Des Moines.

During commercial breaks, Clinton mingled with the audience. It was quite different from the massive kickoff event I attended back in January; with a crowd of merely a couple hundred, rather than thousands, on a television set, rather than a gymnasium floor, the dynamic between the candidate and the crowd was less rope-line frenzy and more actual one-on-one conversation. It was also during one of the breaks from the main GMA broadcast that Hillary gave the interview about the Vilsack endorsement that I wrote about in my post from yesterday.

From a campaign perspective, this was undoubtedly a good talking head event for Hillary: she was the headliner for the first of a series of similar broadcasts with the major contenders from both parties, and it provided her the opportunity to reinforce her image in the electorate at large as the leading candidate on the healthcare issue. She was her usual poised and articulate self (although opinions differ in her case on whether this is too much of a good thing), engaged well with the host and the audience members, and was, I thought, actually persuasive on a couple of major points (cost containment and coverage for children).

Hillary came away with from the show, I believe, not having necessarily sold anyone on this or that specific proposal, but rather having made her case to the viewers that hers is a voice still worth listening to on health care. No small feat in itself, given her well-known history as the leader of the failed health care reform initiative of 1993 - 94. Although I was surrounded by other invited guests of the campaign, and thus not in the very best position to take the pulse of the swing voter, the show also seemed to play well with the general studio audience.

Since the show was seen by about 5 million people, I won’t bother with the usual blow by blow of who said what, but I have included some content links for those who are interested.

Video: Healthcare Q&A

Video: Healthcare and Veterans

Video: Senate Iraq Resolution

Q&A transcript

Email Q&A


1 comment:

Julia Ipsa said...

I'm glad Hillary has healthcare reform in her field of vision. America's gotta do something . It's gonna be a rough ride, but we'll get there...one day.

Love the glimpses into your focused quest for the best candidate. Thanks for keeping us on the East coast "in the know!"

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