Beyond the Soundbite

Guest: Rita Kirk, Chair of the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Program, Southern Methodist University The first presidential debate is always the most important one. After that, viewership typically falls off by about ten million viewers. After watching last night’s debate, I wonder if that data will hold true. At long last, a presidential debate was not so much about a winner and a loser as it was about differing choices – although the pollsters will try to lead us to believe differently. Richard is correct in his assessment that this debate meant something. Perhaps it will mean that voters will tune in to the upcoming debates after all.

Last night was a break-through in debates of this sort since one-liners neither dominated the candidate’s responses nor the following news coverage. As a life-long student of political rhetoric, and co-editor of a book entitled Soundbite Culture: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World, I am heartened to see that the candidates and their consultants are beginning to see that you can say a lot in ninety seconds, that it doesn’t have to be political pabulum, and that words matter. Richard noted as much in his comments as he teased out the value words used by each candidate.

Those who follow the campaigns closely know that the candidates’ responses were not new. Most of the comments were parts of recent stump speeches. Yet this was the first chance for voters to see the candidates side by side and hear the competing views issue by issue. Further, it was the first time that voters got to listen to more than soundbites but rather listen without commentary or journalistic interpretation what the candidates had to say to us. In that sense it was instructive for us all.