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 "Finnish Views of CNN Television News" by Brett Dellinger
"Because of the structures of the various discourses within this broadcast genre, structures which were imposed by the pressures of its encompassing commercial objectives and design, it has an inherent inability to communicate information in the same way as the written word."


"CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment."


"Cueing ... as an artificial contrivance becomes a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized."


"The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment..."


"Stuart Hall ... sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires--as well as our expectations. There is 'a shaping of the whole ideological environment ... a way of representing the order of things ... with ... natural or divine inevitability ....'" 


To Finns, it seems, American television news is read "with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning--as if ... emotions were totally disconnected from the text.  American audiences ... expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns..."


This chapter also appeared in Mediapolis: Aspects of Texts, Hypertexts und Multimedial Communication under the title: "Concision in American Commercial Broadcasts." 

For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.


Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

The Structural Constraint of "Concision" as it is Used in the Discourse Style of American Commercial Broadcasting

(Continued from previous page)

Crossfire

The total time allotted to Crossfire’s guests before the first commercial break was only ten minutes, which is more than most commercial television programs of this nature. Kim Gandy, the "liberal" and "feminist" spoke for a total of 6 minutes and 5 seconds. Janet Parshall, the "conservative," spoke for 3 minutes and 55 seconds. The actual time frame used for this edition of Crossfire is broken down as follows:

[Preceding program]

teaser (about Crossfire)

Station break/commercials

Start ------------------------->

 

Program Sequence Breakdown
20 sec 
Two unnamed "liberals" and conservatives speak
25 sec 
Announcer’s introduction with music50 sec Mike’s introductory monologue20 sec John’s shorter introductionTotal: (1 min 55 sec)
3 min. 20 sec 
John interviews Kim
3 min. 0 sec
 Mike interviews Janet
2 min. 45 sec
 John interviews Kim
55 sec
 Mike interviews Janet
Total: (10 min.)
End ------>
 8 sec 
John announces a commercial break and teases the TV audience for the next segment
Total: 12 min. 3 sec

"Excitement governed by order"

Crossfire begins with short takes of unidentified "liberals," American political personalities, the first of whom states emphatically: "Sexual harassment should be taken seriously. What we are not doing is rising to the right wing’s bait which says that we have to take one side or the other." The "liberal" was followed by an unidentified "conservative" (in this case former Vice President Quayle) saying, "It’s harmful, it’s sad, it’s debilitating to the White House and operations to the office of the President itself...," who followed by fast-paced music with a heavy background beat, crescendoing up to the announcer’s excited pronouncement:

ANNOUNCER (SHOUTS) (voice-over):
"Live!" (followed by more music)
"From Washington!" (more music)
"Crossfire!" (more music)
"On the left: Mike Kinsley."
"On the Right: John Sununu." (More music)
"Tonight: Role Reversal!"
"In the crossfire: Kim Gandy, Executive Vice President of the National Organization for Women..." (Gandy’s picture is shown on the screen)"And: Janet Parshall, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America." (Parshall’s picture is shown on the screen) (music ends)

 

Commentary:

Primeau refers us to Daniel Menaker who has shown how commercial television programs structure their openings in order to communicate "excitement governed by order." "The tone...usually communicates intensity and excitement," as well as the feeling that things are under control and structured, "what otherwise seem chaotic." Under such circumstances, says Primeau, "major events and trivial occurrences can often be reduced or raised to the same status."

MIKE KINSLEY: (50 seconds):

Good evening, and welcome to Crossfire!

Who are the biggest hypocrites of the Paula Jones affair? Is it liberals and feminists? Three years ago they rallied around Anita Hill when she made her charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Now they distance themselves from Paula Jones who makes similar charges against President Clinton.

Or is it conservatives? They were outraged and contemptuous when Anita Hill told her naughty stories about their man Clarence Thomas, but they gleefully support Paula Jones with her lurid tales about their nemesis Bill Clinton.

Both sides say there are differences between Anita Hill and Paula Jones, but they disagree about what those differences are. Is anyone in Washington playing this one straight? Or are we all mired in hypocrisy and double standards? (Present company excepted, of course!)

Commentary:

The theme is "sexual harassment," but the stated purpose of the debate is not to establish whether sexual harassment is a good or a bad practice. John Sununu, a conservative, makes it clear from the beginning that sexual harassment should not be tolerated. The purpose of this debate is to question the credibility of "liberals and feminists," who presumably backed Anita Hill (in her testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) and now oppose giving a hearing to Paula Jones in her accusations of sexual harassment against President Clinton; and "conservatives," who opposed Anita Hill’s accusations against Justice Thomas, but now support Paula Jones. "Mike," in his opening speech, implies that there are only two sides to the political spectrum in Washington ("Both sides...) and only two sides in the whole country, for that matter (liberals and conservatives—as represented by those present on Crossfire). He also states that both are lying. Both sides are being hypocritical, or at least "not playing this one straight." The stated aim of this debate, therefore, is to expose which side is lying "the most. "The title of this particular episode of Crossfire is: "Hypocrites of the Paula Jones Affair," subtitled: "Can anyone be trusted? Are we all hypocrites?" The verbal ploys prevailing in the introduction to the debate, including most statements by the hosts, Mike and John, assume that "we" includes "hypocrites," "those in Washington," and even Crossfire itself! "Feminists" are "liberals" and they, together with "conservatives" are "all mired in hypocrisy."

Liberals and feminists, according to this reasoning, are hypocrites because they supported Anita Hill three years ago and now they do not support Paula Jones. Conservatives are also hypocrites because they were outraged over Anita Hill for telling her "naughty stories." Now, they "gleefully" support Paula Jones and her "lurid tales."

The topic, therefore, seems to reflect an ideology which has a rather narrow—and cynical—view of the American political spectrum, which, accordingly, consists of only "liberals" and "conservatives"—all hypocrites. This reflected ideology also re-enforces the concept that "we" (namely "liberals" and "conservatives") are all to blame. We are the hypocrites, and that, really, no one, especially in today’s Washington, is to be trusted. (See Finnish expectations in the discussion of liberals, conservatives, and feminists, below.)Our excerpts, printed here, are taken verbatim from the first half of Crossfire. (See the time chart above.) Some segments, however, have been cut from this transcript. These cuts are marked as: ..........

..........

John Sununu: (Continuing)

...the issue is, that it looks like, now, the National Organization for Women really does think that only conservative public figures ought to be charged and attacked publicly for doing this terrible thing to women in the work place, and at least suggest a philosophical bias or perhaps even a partisan bias.

Kim Gandy

(SMILING):

John, your nose is growing, even as we speak!

John:

Not at all!!!

(SMILES)

Commentary:

The use of first names, the constant smiles, especially between political opponents, got the attention of our Finnish audience. "Either these people on Crossfire are not political opponents, or they are pretending," was a typical reaction among the participants interviewed. "John, your nose is growing, even as we speak!" seemed so absurd in a television debate that it evoked open laughter from the Finnish audience.

..........

Kim:

As you well know, we have taken the most consistent position of any party which is involved in this. We have always taken the position that sexual harassment ought to be taken seriously, and women who make charges of sexual harassment ought to be listened to—but that both sides are entitled to a fair trial. As you know, in the Anita Hill case, we took no position until after both Anita Hill and Clearance Thomas had testified—we found her testimony .... credible...John

(INTERRUPTS):

....Immediately after her statement you came out with a position...

Kim

(INTERRUPTS):

It was only after testimony was completed...she was not involved in an on-going court case that was going to have a judge and jury involved...

John:

That was her first public statement and within 24 hours, if I’m not mistaken, it might have been 48 hours, you came out with a statement supporting Anita Hill...Kim

(INTERRUPTS):

You’re absolutely wrong about(JOHN INTERRUPTS) that! It was at least two months after her initial statement...

John

(SHOUTS):

...no, no, no...her public statement ...at the hearings...

..........

John:

The first time she personally spoke publicly.

Kim

(STILL SMILING...INTERRUPTS...SPEAKS SIMULTANEOUSLY):

After the televised hearings....

John

(INTERRUPTS):

(SHOUTING) The first time....she spoke publicly...you immediately came out with a statement! Miss Jones has spoken publicly on this thing now. Why don’t you come out with a statement?

Commentary:

The shouts, the interruptions and the general level of rudeness astonished our Finnish audience. Others called attention to the eye contact between discussion participants, and stated that, "On Finnish television, the guests would be looking into the camera...to evoke the acceptance of the television audience." In the case of Crossfire, the guests seemed to know each other rather well and they ignored the television camera.

..........

Kim (BREAKS IN OVER JOHN’S INTERRUPTIONS):The other kind of little revisionist history that’s going on here is the story that Ms. Parshall started earlier today on Sonya Live, where she said that Anita Hill was a liberal feminist! Well! Those of us who remember a little bit about what was going on there know that Anita Hill was a conservative law professor ...(LAUGHTER FROM AROUND THE TABLE)...who served in the Reagan ...and Bush administrations, and that she was....

(INTERRUPTIONS ARE HEARD FROM A LAUGHING JANET PARSHALL)

John

(INTERRUPTS, WHILE SHOUTING AND REPEATING):

...And followed the man she accused around from job to job!

(MORE LAUGHTER FOLLOWS)

Kim

(SHOUTS WHILE SPEAKING SIMULTANEOUSLY):

She was a supporter of Robert Bork! Now, if that makes her a lib...

(INTERRUPTIONS)..eral

(KIM BREAKS OUT LAUGHING) symp(athizer)...

(INCOHERENT SHOUTING FROM ALL SIDES....)

John

(AT FIRST SHOUTING OVER THE UPROAR):

...Hold on!... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...the credibility of, of ....of whether or not he would support or not support, is to look at the actions of the woman that makes the statement. Anita Hill followed the man she accused from job to job. Miss Jones immediately rejected the advances and came out and told people...is that a significant difference?

Commentary:

Kim consistently interrupts John and constantly ignores most of John’s questions—only answering his questions directly when he seems to be getting the upper hand, as if in a game. Janet speaks in machine-gun fashion, rarely allowing Mike to break in. In fact, Mike, one of the hosts—and one of the regulars—is the slowest to get his point across. Try as he will to get a word in edgewise, Janet is always there with a fast reply. This adds to the definition of concision and Greenfield’s "normal given flow," which must mean that not one single second of airtime is allowed to be left unused, and in this sense, Kim is especially good at speaking with concision, in the Greenfieldian sense, while to the surprise of our Finnish audience, John never appears to be angered by Kim’s rudeness. A smile rarely leaves the faces of the concision combatants, who are all, no doubt, veterans of the TV talkshow circuit...........

Mike

(OVER SHOUTS FROM KIM AND JOHN, TURNS THE FOCUS OF THE DEBATE FROM KIM TO JANET):

Janet

(KIM AND JOHN STILL TALKING AT THE SAME TIME)...I remember...I remember conservatives when Anita Hill made her charges being absolutely furious. We have night after night here on Crossfire, saying, "This is disgusting, this woman’s a liar, this woman’s a hussy, we don’t believe her for a moment. She’s tarring this public man unfairly. This whole thing is a circus." Now, with Paula Jones, conservatives are actually complaining that the media weren’t giving it enough attention...(UNINTELLIGIBLE SPEECH)...charge her more. Isn’t there a hypocrisy on your side of the argument, too? 

Janet (SMILES):

Mike, there’s a wonderful saying in the world of music, that says, "Timing is everything." Anita Hill brought forth her charges, and might I point out to you that the dramatic difference between Anita Hill and between Paula Jones is that Anita, who was a law professor and knew what remedies were available to her, did not file a lawsuit. She knew that’s what she could have done, and she really could have gotten some damage collection out of it, but...she didn’t do that!

Mike (INTERRUPTS):

Paula Jones also didn’t file a lawsuit ‘til the statutes already .....(MORE INTERRUPTIONS....)

Janet

(SHOUTS):

(INCOHERENT SHOUTS COME FROM AROUND THE TABLE)

...She filed a lawsuit only after American Spectator magazine took her name and said, "Okay, now we’re going to run it through the mud a little bit." But she said: "Whoa, Whoa!!"Mike

(INTERRUPTS):

....(GARBLED)

...President Clinton for the American Spectator magazine .....

Commentary:

Margaret McLaughlin, in her book, Conversation: How Talk is Organized, has made a detailed analysis of conversational interaction. She points out that conversation, as opposed to narrative, includes the all-important element of interaction, where the roles of the speaker and hearer are frequently exchanged. Debate, however, in contrast to conversation, is characterized by a predetermined size and order in which the discussion takes place (emphasis mine).

In the case of Crossfire, the lack of a chairperson, and the relative freedom of guests to speak up at any time, makes the talk into conversation, as if it were an informal discussion at home around the kitchen table or in your living room, among friends and family. In other words, Crossfire mimics conversation, although it is a television debate requiring considerable verbal skills. This seeming lack of a predetermined size and order for public discourse is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of Crossfire for Finns to grasp.

Footnotes

Please turn the page   


Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Join a discussion on CNN, Television, Broadcasting and New Media at CNNCritical Discussions.


Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.


Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.

 Chapter 8's Go to chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b 7a | 7b | 8 | 8b
Footnotes Discussion  Conclusion Bibliography