The silly fuss over teleprompters


Of all the silly things that people in politics make a fuss of, one of the silliest is the use of a teleprompter. Somehow not using it when giving talks is considered admirable while using one is seen as a weakness. Some people are more skilled at using it than others and president Obama is particularly adept and yet that very skill has been used against him, as if it is a sign that he cannot think on his feet, whereas he has convincingly proved that he can at unscripted events like interviews and at press conferences.

When giving a long speech, most people use some kind of aid to keep track of what they want to say. Some use written notes while others use a projector with slides. I have heard speakers deliver good hour-long talks without any memory aids whatsoever but these are usually due to them having given the same talk so many times that they pretty much have memorized it and it does not matter if they make a slip or omit something.

But when you are a political figure making a speech on an important issue where words matter and a slip can be highly problematic, it would be silly to not use some sort of aid. I have never had the luxury of being offered a teleprompter when I give a talk but from what I have seen, it is an effective tool that enables the speaker to read while yet maintaining eye contact with the audience.

For the longest time, Donald Trump has been boasting about not using a teleprompter as showing that what he says are his own ideas and not those of others but it has often resulted in him contradicting himself and creating confusion as to what he really meant. But recently, he has used a teleprompter and Stephen Colbert has had a peek at what his screen says.

Comments

  1. says

    Meanwhile, Bush is now known to have been using a radio earbud so that someone (?) could use him as a hand-puppet during the presidential debates. In other words, he was a cheater: the event which was intended to allow candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and wit and stuff – it was an open secret that that was why Bush would sometimes stare off into space on his answers.

    What really smokes me is that, of course, the “liberal media” knew about it but chose not to make a big deal about it because it could affect the election. Well, of course it could affect the election, which is exactly why they should have made a big deal of it.

    With respect to the teleprompters: I think it’s bullshit. Simply because it allows someone to pretend to be a better speaker than they are, so they can seem more presidential or visionary, or whatever. Ditto speechwriters. It’s lying for the purposes of manipulation of the electorate.

    I know “everyone knows” politicians have speechwriters. But that’s why there are some that are occasionally hailed for being great orators. The fact that some politician can be hailed as being a great orator means that oratory has value and that means that speechwriters and teleprompters are attempts to gain that value, without actually having it.

    I use powerpoints, occasionally, or a 3×5 card with a few notes, when I’m doing a talk. Seriously, I would respect a president more if they stood up some powerpoint and spoke extensively from that, rather than reading the carefully phrased words of a speechwriter. Back in 2008 I took one of Banachek’s classes on memorization (at TAM) and I noticed that Banachek never referred to notes or even looked at the slides he was presenting. Granted, it was a class on memorization, and he had simply attached mnemonics to locations around the room, where he could trigger the bullet points in his memory. It was a good performance. I would appreciate if our political leaders were as attentive to their craft, and as professional as a stage magician like Banachek.

    As you say, when a single word-slip can be problematic – that is exactly when we should want our politicians to put their own words in their mouths. Why do we accept such mediocrity in the highest office in the land? If we value these people’s words (and we do!) (because we must!) then they ought to be fucking performances: no autotuning, no click track, no speechwriters, no teleprompters. We keep getting electable lying sacks of shit, because we keep electing lying mediocre sacks of shit. What a coincidence.

    Yes, we should laugh at politicians who use a teleprompter. Because they are presenting themselves as being more articulate than they know themselves to be.

  2. says

    Mano, I think perhaps your attitude is colored by your experience as a scientist. You are used to the idea that, in science, the ideas must stand for themselves. That’s true in politics, too, but scientists don’t have to convince their audiences about whatever physical law – indeed the history of science is full of cases where oratory and rhetoric were used to circumvent the process of winnowing out bad ideas. Politics is really different – a cynic would say it’s not much but manipulating bad ideas. And a great leader is someone who is able to articulate the occasional good idea – but their stock in trade is their ability to be convincing in a way that scientists don’t have to be. For scientists, the data speak for themselves. For a politician, whose job it is to manipulate people for better or worse, their stock in trade is how passionate (or glib) they can be – how well they can sell their vision of the future and explain how they can lead everyone there, etc.

    If you take the view that “the product of politician is lies” then it doesn’t matter what technology and speechwriters they bring onstage to make their lies more palatable.
    If you take the view that the politician’s job is to lead, then being able to verbally inspire people is a crucial skill, then using teleprompters and speechwriters is the same as Lance Armstrong’s doping in bicycle races: it allowed him to win when he probably would have lost.

  3. John Morales says

    Marcus:

    For a politician, whose job it is to manipulate people for better or worse, their stock in trade is how passionate (or glib) they can be – how well they can sell their vision of the future and explain how they can lead everyone there, etc.

    And if they use a teleprompter to do that via speeches, so what? They’re still doing it.

    If you take the view that the politician’s job is to lead, then being able to verbally inspire people is a crucial skill, then using teleprompters and speechwriters is the same as Lance Armstrong’s doping in bicycle races: it allowed him to win when he probably would have lost.

    What a silly claim; in bicycle races, doping is forbidden, whereas in politics, teleprompters and speechwriters are not.

  4. says

    And if they use a teleprompter to do that via speeches, so what? They’re still doing it.

    Yes, but they are misrepresenting themselves. That’s all. It’s not a big deal. Plus, you may not have noticed that I am arguing that both teleprompters and using speechwriters amount to misrepresenting oneself. You’re welcome to shrug, “they’re still doing it” if you enjoy playing the naturalistic fallacy game, but – yes – that’s my point.

    And I did explain why I think it is misrepresentation: it is enabling the speaker to appear to be more articulate and a better speaker than they actually are. Than they actually know themself to be because otherwise they wouldn’t be using speechwriters and teleprompters, now, would they?

    What a silly claim; in bicycle races, doping is forbidden, whereas in politics, teleprompters and speechwriters are not.

    Please read for comprehension. Whether it’s forbidden or not is irrelevant (which is why I used that example) to the point that (as I said:) It allows them to win where perhaps they would have lost. Since the presumption on the part of the public is that the performance has value, using performance enhancers that are concealed from the public is manipulating their perspective based on a false impression. The cheating bicyclist is manipulating public perception, as well, by encouraging the public to believe they are a better bicyclist than they, in fact, are. It’s the same thing, the only difference is that one is cheating that’s been regulated against, while the other is “the way things are done.”

    Yes, everyone does it. So what? Does that make it right?

    Let me try another angle on this for you: let’s suppose it’s undoubtably true that Bush was getting quips fed to him through an ear-piece during the debates. Was that cheating?
    The people were there to be influenced to vote (or not vote) for candidates based on how articulate they were and how well they responded in the debate. Is that simply the way things are done, or is that candidate cheating?

  5. says

    TL;DR: Do we still value JFK’s “new frontier” speech as much if everyone knew it was written by Theodore Sorensen?
    Of course not. We’d say “Wow, he sure did an impressive dramatic reading of Sorensen” not “he gave a great speech.”

  6. John Morales says

    Yes, but they are misrepresenting themselves.

    Only if they pretend they are not using such aids when they actually are.

    Please read for comprehension. Whether it’s forbidden or not is irrelevant (which is why I used that example) to the point that (as I said:) It allows them to win where perhaps they would have lost.

    I comprehend perfectly, which is why I informed you that it’s a silly claim. Were doping not forbidden in bicycle races, it would not be cheating to employ it, and therefore those employing it would not have any unfair advantage over those who don’t.

    Let me try another angle on this for you: let’s suppose it’s undoubtably true that Bush was getting quips fed to him through an ear-piece during the debates. Was that cheating?

    It would have been cheating if such aids were forbidden (were they?).

    The people were there to be influenced to vote (or not vote) for candidates based on how articulate they were and how well they responded in the debate. Is that simply the way things are done, or is that candidate cheating?

    Since you’re already supposed it’s undoubtedly true, then clearly it is a way it’s done (duh); in relation to whether it’s cheating, it would be so only if such is forbidden.

    (I grant it’s not in the spirit of the occasion)

  7. John Morales says

    TL;DR: Do we still value JFK’s “new frontier” speech as much if everyone knew it was written by Theodore Sorensen?
    Of course not. We’d say “Wow, he sure did an impressive dramatic reading of Sorensen” not “he gave a great speech.”

    I don’t value it at all, since it’s unfamiliar to me, but anyone who imagines politicians at high levels don’t employ advisors and speechwriters is rather naive.

    More to the point, do you imagine that politicians lose access to such aids (and aides) while in power?

  8. says

    Only if they pretend they are not using such aids when they actually are.

    Well, yes. That’s the point, isn’t it? So the speaker can look out at their audience and pretend to be speaking to them, when they’re actually reading off a teleprompter. The translucent teleprompter, which the cameras cut and glide by so it’s not a constant presence in the speech. So it looks like the speaker is – you know – speaking extemporaneously, not just reading the stuff.

    When a politician says “hey let me read this speech to you off my teleprompter” then at least they’re being honest.

    It would have been cheating if such aids were forbidden (were they?).

    You appear to be using the word “cheating” to describe only activities that are forbidden by some rules somewhere. I am using the word “cheating” in the sense of:

    act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination.

    “Dishonest” and “unfair” being keywords there. If you prefer to limit your use of the word “cheating” to only mean violating specific rules, then – congratulations – you have refuted me by coming up with your own vocabulary.

    Since you’re already supposed it’s undoubtedly true, then clearly it is a way it’s done (duh); in relation to whether it’s cheating, it would be so only if such is forbidden.
    (I grant it’s not in the spirit of the occasion)

    Wow, that’s big of you, granting that. OK, so whenever I say “cheating” just substitute in “not in the spirit of the occasion” and we’re good.

    The spirit of the occasion when the president is giving a speech is that they are communicating and orating. Sure, a significant percentage of the audience knows that the president uses speechwriters* and larger percentage know there are teleprompters in use. The spirit of the occasion is not “The president is reading some stuff off a teleprompter, that his writing room put together” because if that was the spirit of the occasion nobody’d bother to show up at all, they may as well be reading a press release.

    In the case of the debates, the spirit of the occasion was that candidates were, you know, debating. I am not aware of any debates in which it’s “here’s talking head A who is going to read the witty quips his team of ace comedy-writers put together while talking head B was reciting his lines.”

    So, lastly to your point that’s “how it’s done”: the reason I am complaining is because I don’t like that, and I’ve given reasons why I don’t like it. Which is a response to our good host’s referring to it as a “silly fuss”. I’ve given reasons why I think it’s not silly. Don’t mistake “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s how it is” as a brilliant refutation when someone is saying “I don’t think it should be that way.” Yeah. I know that’s how it is. That’s what I am complaining about.

    (*although, I respect Obama much more because he actually writes much of his better material, himself. And the fact that I respect him more because of it, kind of argues my point, doesn’t it?)

  9. Trickster Goddess says

    I disagree with Marcus. For me, the mark of a great leader isn’t the ability to write and memorize his own speeches, it is the ability to propose and implement good policies. Ability to govern doesn’t necessarily imply ability to orate, and vice versa.

  10. says

    I don’t value it at all, since it’s unfamiliar to me, but anyone who imagines politicians at high levels don’t employ advisors and speechwriters is rather naive.

    I can’t tell if you’re actually obtuse or if you’re just simulating it. Of course I know politicians have advisors and speechwriters. That’s what I am complaining about.

    More to the point, do you imagine that politicians lose access to such aids (and aides) while in power?

    I have absolutely no illusions about that: they’ve got huge machines behind them to help them manipulate people’s perceptions. Yes, that’s how it’s always been done.

    I believe I made a fair argument for why it’s deceptive.
    Now, if you want to say that you like your politicians deceptive, then you’re welcome to them. We can both agree that that’s all we’re ever going to get anymore anyway. I stop short of forgiving people for trying to fool me and manipulate me, that’s all.

  11. John Morales says

    Marcus,

    So, lastly to your point that’s “how it’s done”: the reason I am complaining is because I don’t like that, and I’ve given reasons why I don’t like it. Which is a response to our good host’s referring to it as a “silly fuss”. I’ve given reasons why I think it’s not silly.

    Well said; I respect that.

  12. says

    Trickster Goddess@#9:
    I disagree with Marcus. For me, the mark of a great leader isn’t the ability to write and memorize his own speeches, it is the ability to propose and implement good policies.

    I don’t disagree with that, at all!

    If there was a politician who was proposing and implementing good policies, they could do it by press release and spare the manipulative, deceptive fol-de-rol entirely. I’d appreciate that tremendously.
    “Hey, the president isn’t a great speaker and doesn’t want to pretend to be, so we’ve talked John Lithgow into doing a dramatic reading of his speechwriting team’s zinged-up version of the 200-page economic analysis underlying his proposed budget.” That’d be fine. Or just post the PDF on a website so everyone can look at it.

    I am not saying I value having a politician that’s a great speaker. That’s the problem! Look: they even tried to turn George Bush into an orator (and failed) Because an artificially high standard has been set. Maybe it’s time to just say “fuck it” and let Michael Bay do the presidential effects and POTUS can just hide in a bunker somewhere. “Did you see the way POTUS hulksmashed that guy!? It was awesome!”

    Obviously, there’s a lot of contentment with a high degree of fakeness.

  13. says

    I do believe that the current specific flap about Obama’s teleprompter (as opposed to anyone else’s) appears to be politically motivated and, as such, is also lies and manipulation. That’s not “silly” either, and yes, that’s “how it’s done” but – it’s yet more dishonesty that’s tolerated as a matter of course in politics. And the pundit class (who are allowed to propagate it) wring their hands about how they have no credibility and the electorate is dissatisfied. No shit? The media allows itself to be managed, then complains that the leash it’s on is a bit awkwardly tight.

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    This is just one more in a long line of conservative hypocrisies. Conservatives have insulted liberals for “terrorist fist bumps,” desecrating the flag by wearing stars-and-stripes clothing, bowing to royalty in foreign nations – the list goes on and on. And all of those mentioned have been debunked by showing that conservative presidents, including St. The Ronald, have done the identical things.

  15. blf says

    And they use television, where some people look good and others do not. And they use radio, where some people are good at strictly-verbal presentation and others are not.

    Hence, taking the “using it is a lie” line of thinking a bit further, I propose abolishing the use of television and radio. They must be physically present, e.g., on a soapbox.

    Of course, that solves nothing per se, since some people can stand on stage or soapbox and give a convincing presentation, whilst others cannot. To remove this variant of “using it is lie”, I therefore instead propose all presentations be given by a standardized mechanical (artificial) voice using standardized kit, including a tinny speaker and a strictly-enforced cut-off timer.

    That leaves the words and phrases being used. Some can craft better speeches than others, but as is well-known, the better speech is not necessarily the better idea. Solving this variant of “using it is a lie” seems a tricky puzzle…

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