Sound-Bite Sampler

Today the St. Petersburg Times’ Adam C. Smith provides a refreshing account of Kerry’s campaign appearance in Orlando.

Smith shuns the “he-said”/”she-said” form these stories often take and challenges conventional wisdom about Kerry’s ability to communicate — that his aversion to sound-bite length responses hinders his ability to connect with voters.

After noting that the senator can give “informed answers on most any topic,” albeit in a manner less inspiring than Bill Clinton, Smith notes that, surprisingly, Kerry’s audience seems to hear him despite the complexity of some of his rhetoric. Smith asks his readers to “consider one of [Kerry’s] biggest applause lines”:

“If you entrust me with the presidency of the United States, the first legislation that I will introduce, within 24 hours of being sworn in, to the Congress of the United States is my plan to make the same health care plan that senators and congressmen get available and accessible to anybody in America and to make sure that health care is not a privilege for the elected and the connected. It’s a right that (should be) accessible and affordable to all of America.”

It wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker, but the crowd cheered.

Smith found that “a number of Orlando-area Democrats said they were more impressed than they had expected to be.” Of those, Terri Rabac, a car dealership employee, described Kerry as “genuinely in touch with regular people.”

Smith reinforces the storyline that Kerry can’t speak in sound-bites, but he noticeably breaks away from the pack to propose that this deficiency may not hurt the candidate (at least as much as is commonly believed.)

We can’t quite figure out why other reporters haven’t noticed this. Of course, others may just see it differently, or disagree. Or maybe journalists’ ears — and notebooks — are so attuned to sound-bites, they can’t understand politicians who don’t naturally resort to them.

Thomas Lang

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.