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Discussion held on media's effect on politicians

By Dani Frank, Editoral Editor


From the phonograph to social networking sites, the mediums of technology have changed, and our presidential candidates must keep up if they are to effectively govern, said Dr. Kathleen Hall. As part of the "Communication, Technology and Democracy: A Hofstra 75th Anniversary Symposium," Hall presented this view in her lecture, "From Phonographs to Facebook: How Media Shape the Rhetoric of Presidents and Those Who Aspire to the Job."

Hall, University of Pennsylvania, presented various media moments in history paired with their subsequent handling by the current president, what she refers to as "National Eulogy." The National Eulogy refers to when the president addresses the nation after an event.

Edward Kennedy's enthusiastic, televised campaign speech, for example, depicted a failure to "modulate your tone," a concept Hall referred to multiple times. Voice modulation refers to slowing your pace of speaking and speaking in a quieter tone for emphasis. "It was a close-up, and he was seen as shouting to the audience. It was inappropriate, and results in a poor biography and difficulty in becoming elected," said Hall.

Politicians need to evaluate their audience and the situation prior to giving speeches. While it may be tempting to try to rile up the crowd and receive whoops and a standing ovation, the main goal should be modulation. "We want to buy into fictional relationships with people that we don't know," said Hall. "We are assessing things about candidates that have never come up before, namely, do we like them? […] That was never a concern before, but if a president can't appear likable, their candidacy is in trouble."

Social networking allows that the audience has an entirely new level of access to the political realm. Reactions to presidential speeches are instant, broadcast on blogs, texted to friends or posted online. "Technological capacity changes what a leader is able to do today. Candidates who are aware of this increased level of accessibility will have better close-ups than those who are behind the curve," said Hall.

Hall also stresses that political candidates need to be aware of the new technological world. "Twitter, text, email, that [technological] world will be speaking to you prior to when the president speaks to you. [...] They need to know that they are expected to talk and do something about it," said Hall. To illustrate this point, Hall cites an example involving Hurricane Katrina and President Bush.

"President Bush gave a speech in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, advocating the need to find out what had happened," said Hall. "But while he was saying we need to know all of the facts about the disaster, he was subtly shaking his head, no. […] He did not conduct himself as actually wanting to know what had happened."

Hall ended her presentation with a clip from President Obama responding to the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy. Obama spoke in a slow, emotional cadence and let the audience know he was truly upset by the sequence of events. "To understand the relationship of change in the old and the new genres of technology separates the candidates who will be successful from the unsuccessful."

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