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Microexpressions

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Microexpressions

Journalists sometimes bait people.  And they do it under the guise of asking the simple, seemingly innocent question.  For instance, when Gayle King of CBSThisMorning asks today interviewee Chelsea Clinton if she has anything she wants to “pass along” to tomorrow interviewee, Ivanka Trump, the questions seems not to be an invitation to share ideas.  Because since the entire conversation focused on her mother’s loss of the 2016 election, the disagreements Chelsea Clinton feels with the Trump administration and whether or not she herself will run for future office,  Ms. King’s offer, instead, sounded like a prompt to get Ms. Clinton to do Ms. King’s dirty work, i.e., say some shit-stirring thing that she as an “unbiased” journalists couldn’t or shouldn’t say.

Sly.

But something else.  After the third or fourth ask of whether or not she herself would run for office, you could see Ms. Clinton’s brow knit for a split second.  It was a microexpresssion and a true indication of her annoyance with the insistence of the program’s hosts to try to pin her down regarding her political intentions.  Of course, she was prepared for this, and of course, this is what journalists do.  But this post is about feelings obviously felt, but not necessarily shared in all of their pointy sharpness.

Microexpressions, identified by the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) are the tendency of a human face to reveal instantaneous emotion in reaction to a stimulus.  People almost always flash them across their face whenever they have feelings of disgust, fear, anger, surprise or one of the other, basic emotions.  But depending of the context, they may, in the next second, try to hide those expressions to present a more socially acceptable, sustained expression.

Radio is my thing but I’ve spent many years in TV and video production.  And radio interviews often require sitting face to face across a table with someone.  So, as with anyone who has worked in the business and done lots of interviews, I am trained to pick up on microexpressions.

As I’m sure are the journalists at CBSThisMorning.

Written by Interviewer

April 4, 2017 at 22:35

Posted in Scratchpad

Boiled Down

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boiling-pot

In the course of my work on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I’ve found a lot of very strong opinions for and against NPR and the work it does.  But in light of the most recent presidential election, this comment, from a 2005 Metafilter post, reflects the views of many angry progressives I’ve heard:

“NPR is what the neocons hate about middle-class liberals. They’re so comfortable and self-content that they lack guts. The neocon movement has some of the vilest people alive, but all of them have guts. They have brass huevos to bust in here and tear down our constitution and start pushing our armies around. We liberals are going to knit our brows and wring our hands while they take the bank and torch our wilderness.”

And, the other side:

“Your second to last paragraph was brilliant, if misdirected. Your caricature of the complacent yet occasionally whiny liberal is dead on. NPR isn’t to blame though. Take NPR for what it is, and not what you want it to be. It’s not IndyMedia Radio. It’s not the liberal counterpart to AM agitprop. NPR, instead, stands as the closest and most respectable form of true journalism I’ve ever seen in America. It caters to rational independent thought without spoon feeding the “proper” opinion like IndyMedia or Rush Limbaugh would. Presenting a national public debate, giving each mainstream* side equal time with their strongest minds, is about as principled as journalism comes. One would assume that in issues as “nuclear testing within 50 miles of low-income housing,” that the side with the best argument would clearly win in front of millions of listeners. Why would you want to stifle that? Where else would you find that debate? Crossfire? Hannity and Colmes?

* this is where I find the weakness in the debate format: the assumption that one of two mainstream sides of an issue have it right, or worse yet, the truth is always in the middle.”

The inside/out dynamic is just as powerful of the traditional left/right one.  Angry people on both sides, as evidenced with Trump voters that would’ve just as easily voted for Bernie Sanders.  You have to wonder if politics is turning a corner somehow, and if the kind of emotion, expressed by this public radio supporter, is coming into the mix.   What will the outcome be?  More angry people yelling at each other, or both sides getting a much clear picture of where the other really stands with less “intellect” in the way?

Written by Interviewer

January 31, 2017 at 02:02

“There are four lights!”

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four-lights

Decidedly uncomfortable looking Presidential spokesperson Sean Spicer tried to make the American public not notice the paltry number of attendees at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.  Why the numbers were so small is anybody’s guess and debatable.  What is not debatable, except only to the most strident supporters of Newspeak, is that even a significant fraction of voters for Mr. Trump seemed absent from the National Mall.

But this isn’t so much about those there or not there on Friday.  Those voters may feel they’ve already spoken and other demonstrations aren’t necessary.  It’s more about how easily can people be turned from the obvious to the shiny nothing.  It’s about how quickly can we all come to love the new President with the speed of the Stockholm syndrome. It’s about with how much enthusiasm can a redirect of “alternative facts” send us careening off in an insignificant direction or observing the joy with which will we finally surrender the “hard work of liberty.”  In the remaining time we have freedom of speech, they’re questions worthy of pursuit.

In college, we read a book called “Njal’s saga.”  It was about a Viking family around the year 1000.  The professor wanted us to take away from the story the fact that in ten centuries, people haven’t changed and continue to be swept up by their fears, angers, jealousies, desires for vengence, lust, prejudices, plots, quests for power and pitieous efforts to matter.  And how, there have been, are and will always be those who are constantly trying to bend others to their will.  But, as a trekkie and an ardent student of politics, Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc-Picard got the last word.

As should we all – http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2009/05/there_are_four_lights.html

How Was I?

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pretty-please-eyes

People can be sweet.  I say that because I can’t remember how many times, after an interview, somebody looks at me with all sincerity and innocence and asks how they did?  Did their answers make sense?  Did they sound like they knew what they were talking about.  “You won’t make me sound stupid, will you?”

At these moments, it’s my job to reassure them.  “No, of course you didn’t sound stupid.”  “You’re here because you’re the expert.”  “It’s not my job to make you sound bad.”  It is my job, though, to honestly present them to the audience.  To do otherwise would be doing a disservice to them and listeners.

I once interviewed a candidate for a state office in Oregon.  This person was registered with the Secretary of State, along with a slate of qualified and assumedly, highly confident and competent competitors.  But, this person was not confident.  And as we talked, they showed their utter lack of knowledge on the most basic issues someone running for that office would need to at least be familiar with.  At the end, they asked me how they did.  I asked them how long they had been considering their run before they decided to do it.  It was a decision they had made against the advice of family and friends.  As for the reason why they sought this office, I didn’t get a clear answer either in the pre-interview, during the conversation or afterwards.

I aired the interview.  Another candidate won the office.  But still, I didn’t see it as my job to present them in any way other than how they presented themselves.  And though I tried to be gentle in my review, the fact is, they didn’t bring the goods and they sat themselves down in front of my microphone.

Everytime, an interviewer has to be professional and most times, kind.  But you can’t always protect people from themselves.

Written by Interviewer

December 27, 2016 at 07:03

Transformation-Oriented Counterpublics

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dive

While doing research for my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across this quote from, “Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History” by Ralph Engelman.

Mr. Engelmen, in the conclusion of his book, was explaining whether or not Pacifica was trying to do too much by being totally self governing and at the same time, trying to give voice to all of the voiceless.  He quotes John Mclaughlin of the Mclaughlin Group, in 1994;

“Because so many social and economic inequalities cut across group interests and prevent the realization of a truly democratic public sphere, an effective strategy would seek unity amongst transformational-oriented counterpublics for a collective struggle, to form coalitions that extend beyond micropolitics.”

This sounds a lot like employing the in/out argument versus the left/right argument to find common ground between those for whom, on the surface, there seems to be no common ground.  I wanted to show that this idea, in the wake of the results of the presidential election, is not new thinking.  An earlier blogpost referred to how many in the media missed the groundswell for President-elect Donald Trump while also not noticing how many Trump supporters would’ve also voted for Bernie Sanders.  They wanted foundational change and they were looking at both ends of the political spectrum to get it.

These ideas probably just dive beneath the surface once they have served their purpose in earlier times and resurface into public consciousness when they are needed again.  Perhaps in the future,  news and public affairs programs will look for more of these non-traditional, counterintuitive connections.  Maybe finding them will spark more meaningful conversations across groups rather than on the echo chambers within groups.

To The Good

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pondering

In the course of writing my book about the public radio pledge drive, it has happened twice so far.  Twice, I have found discrepancies in secondary sources.  Reporters love doing that.  And when I notified the purveyors of that information, they acknowledged their errors and fixed them.

I’m just plodding along here.  For me, this process isn’t fancy or technical.  Rather, it’s more like connecting cars in a toy train set.  But it feels nice to know that not only am I paying attention, but I am correctly interpreting what I find.

Written by Interviewer

December 7, 2016 at 00:31

Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn

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goddamn

Three goddamns.

That’s how many were in an interview between OPB’s “Think Outloud” host Dave Miller and “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert in their rebroadcasted interview today from September 2015.  Although not one of George Carlin’s original “Seven Dirty Words”, the trifecta reminded me of a 2009 interview NPR’s Madeline Brand had with Jeremy Renner, who had starred in “The Hurt Locker”.  Words were bleeped but his use of “goddamn” wasn’t, which prompted a listener to ask the NPR Ombudsman why not?

The Ombudsman replied that “using god damn it” is not legally profane, according to the FCC.  The phrase is not, in legal parlance, “actionable”.  The federal agency defines three standards for language; obscene, profane and indecent:

1. Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment.  For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

2. Indecent content portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity.

3. Profane content includes “grossly offensive” language that is considered a public nuisance.

However, a training pamphlet from KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon, identifies words and contexts that apparently are to be avoided just in case an official decided to interpret the law a little more broadly.  These include not playing certain songs or repeating certain song titles, sexual jokes or innuendo, creative editing of profane or indecent words or fleeting references, such as “Oh Shit!”

KBOO giving the realm of questionable language such a wide berth might have something to do with the fact that the station was fined $7000 in 2001 for violating community standards on its “Soundbox” program.  The station had broadcast a poem by performer Sarah Jones that included lyrics the FCC considered indecent.

From the FCC lawsuit:
Radio Station:  KBOO-FM, Portland, Oregon
Date/Time Broadcast:   October 20, 1999, on the “Soundbox,” between 7:00  and 9:00 p.m.
Material Broadcast:  “Your Revolution”

(Various female voices)

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Maybe your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with fujees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And  produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep
With L.L. hard as hell, you know
Doing it and doing and doing it well, you know
Doing it and doing it and doing it well
Your revolution will not be you smacking it up, flipping it or rubbing it down
Nor will it take you downtown, or humping around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not have me singing
Ain’t no nigger like the one I got
Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot
Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise
Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no not between these thighs
Uh-uh
My Jamaican brother
Your revolution will not make you feel bombastic, and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic
Uh-uh
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I’m gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks,
Please brother please
Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar eating ghetto
Mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind
Just so I can get signed
And maybe have somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
Your revolution makes me wonder
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real

In 2003, a more forgiving FCC, after hearing from Jones herself and the station, chose to rescind the fine.   Fortunately for KBOO, both the fine and the rescision were before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl.  The public outrage which followed caused the FCC to jack up fines per violation from $32,000 to $350,000.  Such a fine would’ve been like a planet killing asteroid smashing through KBOO’s tiny 8th Avenue studio.

The FCC determined that community standards were not violated.  It is an example of how the law regarding obscenity, indecency and profanity, whether gratuitous or not, is and isn’t written in stone.  There may be several standards at work when stations chose to allow or restrict language that may or may not cost them big bucks, public support or both.