Behaving Badly on TV

Expanding my reach and audience of this blog has been one of my central focuses these last couple of months.  To rehash, in late December I had my first radio spot on The Schilling Show.  For readers of The Daily News Record, another of my pieces appears in the opinion section of Monday’s newspaper.  But what about television?  With the exception of a brief segment during the 2006 campaign, I’ve never been on TV.  Therefore, I decided that I should take the time to learn more about this medium.

This most recent Friday, January 14, I drove up to Arlington to participate in one of The Leadership Institute’s training sessions.  This particular one was called “Television Workshop, On-camera”.  Unfortunately, due to the more or less complete urbanization of Arlington, parking was proving to be a bit of a challenge until the folks at LI directed me to a public parking garage.  All in all, the workshop lasted a little over three hours.  We did cover quite a bit of material including: what to wear, how to present yourself, and what to say.  I’m not going to address those topics here.  If you want to learn more about those issues, I would highly recommend attending the workshop yourself.

What I do want to talk about, however, is the tone they recommend adopting for TV.  I can only describe the attitude as the worst aspects of political television.  If asked a question that you don’t care to answer, simply steer the conversation in a different direction or ignore the point entirely.  When you debate one or more people, you don’t have to wait your turn to speak.  Just interrupt the other person whenever you feel you can get away with it.   Civility is overrated and can even be a hindrance.  The rules are simple; whoever gets in the most words, and thus the most airtime, wins.

Now whom should we blame for these displays which are quite frankly disrespectful and childish?  I believe it rests primarily with the host or interviewer of the program.  A good host can keep his or her guests in line and on topic.  A poor host doesn’t restrain his or her guests, or, worse yet, treats them with open contempt.  Upon further reflection, there is a strong comparison between the host of a political program and an elementary school teacher.  A worthy host or teacher must be both a taskmaster and disciplinarian, motivated and fair.  If you allow your guests or students to be disrespectful or constantly wander off topic, then no one will learn anything of value.

Of course, these days political TV is not really about education, but instead shouting trivial and meaningless talking points.  The market and the audience have become oversaturated with emotion and devoid of facts.  Without a meaningful exchange of ideas, the American public treats politics as fairly irrelevant.  It is merely another form of entertainment to be spoofed on Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live.  Therefore, we must reject the concept of no holds barred political television.  It is detrimental to our political health and weakens the fabric of society.

In closing, I encourage you to explore the wealth of training options available at The Leadership Institute.  My first experience with their learning opportunities was excellent and last week’s was quite good as well.  I just take exception to one particular technique that they suggested.  Although rudeness and political demagoguery is all the rage on TV these days, that doesn’t mean we should follow down this well-worn path.  I know that I won’t.  If that means I’ll never be successful in the medium, at least I can hold my head high knowing that I didn’t help trash the American experiment for a quick buck and to further my own selfish ambitions.

Tucson Rhetoric

Since the tragic events in Tucson on Saturday, political rhetoric continues to flare.  Everyone is looking for someone to hold responsible.  Some people on the far left fault Sarah Palin, the tea party movement, and private gun ownership for the calamity while some on the far right see it as justice for Representative Giffords’ support of liberal policies or punishment from God for increasing immorality in our nation.  In their mad rush to play the blame game, these groups have missed the point.  As far as I can tell, the fault for this terrible deed rests solely with the gunman, Jared Loughner.  No one else pulled the trigger, no one else handed him the gun, and no one else urged him to enact his plan.  It wasn’t the natural result of having too many freedoms…or too few.  It was not some grand political statement, but the act of a single coward.

Unfortunately, some political groups in the nation try to use any misfortune, be they natural or man-made, to push their agenda.  For them, the end justifies the means and they will exploit any opportunity.  I call upon all Americans to resist this temptation and rebuke any person or organization that seeks to profit from this terrible moment.

As they are similar to many of my own thoughts, I’d like to share with the words of Representative Steve Israel, the new Chairman of the DCCC:

Friend —

In the wake of last Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, the thoughts and prayers of the DCCC remain with our colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, the other victims of this horrifying attack, their families, and the people of Southern Arizona.

Today, the House of Representatives formally honored them with a resolution expressing the condolences of our entire nation. But since Congresswoman Giffords is both a colleague and a close friend, I wanted to share some additional thoughts.

Congresswoman Giffords is a rising star and I am always touched by her compassion and drive. She was simply doing what she loves to do – talking with and serving her constituents.

We mourn and honor the lives of nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, her congressional outreach director Gabe Zimmerman, her friend and Chief United States District Court Judge John Roll, and the other people who were senselessly murdered while simply meeting their representative in their neighborhood.

In Gabby’s spirit of thinking about others, I wanted to pass along the suggestion of her husband, Captain Mark Kelly who encouraged people to pray for the victims and their families, and for those who want to do more, consider making a contribution to two organizations that she has long valued: Tucson’s Community Food Bank or the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross.

Please join the DCCC in continuing to send your thoughts and prayers to the victims of this horrific attack and your wishes for Gabby’s recovery and return to the House of Representatives.

Thank you,

Steve Israel
Rep. Steve Israel
DCCC Chairman

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I too ask that you please remember the dead, the families of the victims, and Representative Giffords.  There is a time and a place for politics, but it is not right here and it is not right now.