Sunday, September 28, 2008

Does Anybody Remember Joe Biden?

For those who may have forgotten, he’s that other person who is running for vice president. It wasn’t all that long ago that the news media was obsessively on the trail to try and find out who Barack Obama was going to pick as his running mate. In fact, the night before the promised announcement, the cable networks were spending the entire evening doing nothing but speculating on who the pick would be instead of covering anything else that might have been newsworthy at the time.

But once the announcement was made and the Democratic Convention went on, the next question the media obsessed on was John McCain’s pick for his running mate. With the startling and controversial selection of Sarah Palin, the media’s obsession with her still continues unabated while coverage of her Democratic counterpart is at times close to non-existent.

Is this my imagination? One of the media’s own, CNN makes the same observation in this article:
Biden goes from hot to not since Palin came along

The night before Obama announced his vice presidential choice August 23, the press staked out Biden's Delaware home and gave minute-by-minute updates of his every movement.

But then Sen. John McCain picked telegenic and nationally unknown Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, and the press corps traveling with Biden's campaign dwindled to a skeleton crew.
As the article states, Biden offers the most unfiltered contact with the media of any of the big four. But he's the least likely to be covered. With Sarah Palin offering the least amount of contact with the news media, it appears that they are chasing even harder for something they cannot have. When ABC’s Charles Gibson being chosen to give the first interview of Palin, he happily flew all the way out to Alaska to do it. And his interview certainly got a lot of viewers (including me) just to see her finally start to answer media questions that she had been avoiding.

But let’s be honest. Was this interview really about listening to Sarah Palin’s foreign policy views of the world? If it was really about foreign policy, they could have also done an interview with Biden on that topic where he could easily fill and hour or two with informed views on the subject. What the interview was really about was to see if Palin was going to crash and burn under the questioning because of her obvious inexperience. Call it a morbid curiosity.

I think that after Gibson interviewed Palin, it would have made perfect sense to follow that up with a similar interview with Biden to allow the audience to more easily compare the two which would help voters to make a decision on whom to vote for. Is the fact that they didn’t a reflection on ABC or it is a reflection on how ABC thinks of its viewers?

But fear not! Biden did get a recent mention in the media — on his latest gaffe about
FDR announcing the stock market crash on TV. Of course, back then there was no TV and Herbert Hoover, not FDR was president. Biden has long been famous for his gaffes. In fact, some political analysts had suggested that this might be a reason for Obama to pick somebody else for his running mate. But even knowing this, Obama felt that his vast knowledge and experience far outweighed the occasional flub he might make on the campaign trail.

And while gaffes like this keep our journalists busy, the fact is that when Biden talks to the media, he is far more likely to speak what is on his mind rather than just rattling off prepared fluff like Sarah Palin (and frankly, most other politicians) when answering questions. I think it’s only fair that we cut some slack to those few politicians who give thoughtful, unrehearsed answers to questions.

Last week, a friend of mine told me about an upcoming local Joe Biden campaign appearance and asked me if I wanted to go. Of course I said yes. But what made this event a bit different for me was that I was one of the attendees who were selected to sit behind Biden while he made the speech so I would be one of those in the background when the camera was on Biden. Yes, these events are so orchestrated that the volunteers are careful about how the people show up in the background behind the candidate when on TV. If you check out this
local news video, I am the one wearing the light blue short- sleeved dress shirt behind and to Biden’s left.

But one of the most interesting things about sitting behind somebody giving a speech is seeing the
teleprompters not only on the podium but also at 45 degree angles on each side of the speaker. While the image that the speechmakers would like to convey is that they are reciting their words from memory, in fact the entire speech is electronically downloaded (sometimes with phonetic spellings of difficult words) to each of these devices. This makes it appear like he or she is looking around the room at the audience while in reality the speaker is reading the speech the whole time.

But having said this, I was able to see that Biden spoke for a solid ten minutes without notes before the teleprompter text started to roll with the prepared speech. In his speech, he spoke about among other things, what should be included as part of the crucial Wall Street bailout agreement being worked out in Congress. But as far as I could tell, excerpts of his speech only appeared on the local newscasts. Meanwhile yesterday on CNN, they had a video of Sarah Palin going for a jog.

Fortunately, with the vice presidential debate coming up soon, we will finally get to see these two side-by-side answering questions and putting forth their views on the issues. But while Palin has certainly created a lot of buzz, even some conservative columnists like
Kathleen Parker in the National Review are having their serious doubts about her.

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.
When that debate finally happens on October 2nd, there will be lots of curious viewers tuned in to see what happens.

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