Slouching Towards Charlotte

Friday, September 07, 2012

John Sides says that at conventions, a journalist’s job is to measure how well politicians have riled up their supporters. But, polls take time, while coverage of speeches starts minutes after the speakers open their mouths. So how should journalists fill the void?  Should they be striving, as they do, to be the nation’s emotional first responders?  Novelist Walter Kirn covered the DNC for The New Republic. He said that watching reporters take the emotional temperature of the room was an alienating experience.


Walter Kirn

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [9]


Even if a convention makes anyone want to hum a few bars of' 'Give'em the Old Razzle Dazzle', it's a recharging, a counterweight to the sadly mudslinging past and prepare for things to come...the extremes. Walter Kirn's article brought me to the extreme, an uncomfortable place in my hectic life. I only wanted the facts. That's because news starts instantaneously and only seems to live for a precious short time. It's an extraordinary accomplishment for any journalist to deliver, whose commentary give my beliefs an opportunity to strengthen, readjust or deny...all before it becomes 'so 10 seconds ago'...extreme. But why Michelle Obama's speech, after all it was gracious, supportive and endearing from my vantage point. From the edge, I realize that I wanted her speech to be more extreme, fuel sparks and light fires. She definitely has that kind of strength, intelligence and spirit! A thought provoking article...Outside the box!

Sep. 13 2012 12:15 AM
Bob from Evanston, IL

Walter Kirn's view that Michelle Obama was "overacting" highlights the challenge facing those who need to address the crowd in the hall and the person at home simultaneously. Just as theatrical makeup for the stage would look exaggerated on high-definition television, Howard Dean's "scream" probably played well in the room, but came across as "way over the top" on a TV tight shot with no ambient sound to provide a sense of perspective. As they say, you had to be there.

Sep. 12 2012 02:09 PM

I guess I'm surprised that Mr. Kim was so harsh about Michelle Obama's speech. Putting out detailed policy is not the First Lady's job. Could you imagine what Fox News would have done if she had given a policy speech? She would have been excoriated. Think about how hostile the media was to Hilary Clinton when she tried to enter the public policy sphere as First Lady.
Of course, the political opposition will make hay whenever they can, but it is smart not to make it too easy for them Ann Romney gave a speech equally empty of policy pronouncements, and full of emotional cues; I'm afraid it is expected. I want to hear the candidates lay out policy, and agendas. It is not their spouses obligation to do so.

Sep. 11 2012 10:00 PM
Peter from New York City

I was shocked by the remark of the commentator who said she had seen the last 12 conventions and didn't notice that much difference between any of them. She's is not watching very closely!

Sep. 10 2012 11:12 PM
Neal J. King from Munich, Germany

The deconstruction is interesting, but spare me the faux naivité.

Sep. 10 2012 03:07 AM
ctb from FL

Heard the segment yesterday & couldn't help but wonder; is this just an attempt by Mr. Kirn to get attention? How could anyone watch Mrs. Obama's speech & not be moved by it? You'd have to be either deeply bigoted or cynical - perhaps both?

How many little African-American girls (not to mention boys) does he interact w/ on a daily basis? Did he once think about what her appearance & speech might mean to them & their families?

Honestly - it boggles my mind how some people can be so self-involved. My impression was that he was simply looking for a unique 'angle' - blah!

Sep. 09 2012 11:52 AM
Nancy Hawkins from Janesville WI

The two comments I've just read are just as insightful as Kirn. Of course, we, or at least I would appreciate more content-based and in-depth reporting. I weary of emotionally driven lemmings who have absolutely no interest in facts, but follow only because of how they feel about the message.

Sep. 09 2012 08:35 AM
B.J. Dodge-Dart from Long Beach, CA.

Dang, Walter. You didn't like her acting? Michelle Obama is a personage, and part of what she is projecting is a carefully crafted archetype, for which we have few examples in public speaking. I can think of Barbara Jordan, or Shirley Chisholm. The idea of being blown up several times life-size creates a necessity to be clear, and to let performance adrenalin inform rhetoric: otherwise, we might just watch the teleprompter without the filter of human interpretation. I disagree that Michelle Obama does not speak about policy when she draws a clear distinction between those who walk through the door and keep it open, and those who walk through the door and slam it behind them. Perhaps this has emotional freight for some of us (a particularly emotional populace, as opposed to a literate and objective one), but it is also a powerful, and a political metaphor that speaks to me of the differences in sensibility between self-made persons, and those who acknowledge that someone came before them, and someone will be following them. It is this difference that I see between the two narratives of the Republican and Democratic modalities, and she, of all people, doesn't need to apologize for "acting" or representing the character of all of those who have had to pry that door open in the first place.

Sep. 09 2012 02:37 AM
Jenny from DC

Okay, sure, Michelle Obama's speech displayed her magnificent gift for acting-- however, I could not help but get swept into magnificence because of so many factors. a) her choice of clothing, elegant, simple, b) her choice of the colors she wore-- no bludgeon you over the head with Power red like Ann Romney. Walter Kirn gets paid to say this stuff, but he's got to be one hard soul to not appreciate how Mrs. Obama's life experience informaed all her decisions of how to present herself on stage. Regardless of my exhaustion from all manipulation (and I am fatigued) she still represents a manipulation I'd take any day over the Romneys...

Sep. 08 2012 11:51 AM

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