Friday, April 13, 2007

What makes a Great Communicator great?

David Sirota asks a perfectly reasonable question:
I know it’s a rather small example, but check out this line in Time Magazine today:
“Political scientists speak of the communications skills of Reagan, Thompson and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger…”
Serious question: What “political scientists speak of the communications skills of Fred Thompson?” I mean, I guess I’ll suspend my sheer disbelief and assume that at least a few political science professors have expounded on the supposedly amazing “communications skills” of Gov. Conan the Barbarian, because he is chief executive of the largest state in the country (yes, yes, that legendary line “You are erased!” from 1996 told astute political scientists what an immortal political communicator Schwarzeengger was going to become). But Fred Thompson?

David, we feel your pain all the way out here in p3 territory.

Back in the early 1980s, when Reagan first got awarded that nickname, I was actually in the communication biz. It was not much fun, I can tell you, being needled by friends and colleagues about "The Great Communicator."

And if we've gone from Reagan to Der Ah-Nolt to Fred Thompson in a generation, as Time suggests, we truly are witnessing the descent of species.

I find some amusement in the Time article, in that it's political scientists who are supposedly saying this, not communication researchers I won't force you to relive some old academic turf wars, I'll just say there's a reason we have different words for "politics" and "communication" and advise those mythical political scientists to stick to their own bailiwick.

But now we have three data points--and in the age of instant analysis, that's more than enough to start extrapolating. So let's take our n of 3 and see if we can answer the question: How does someone get designated as a Great Communicator?
Great Communicators are Republicans. Some Democrats may, grudgingly, be said to communicate well, but only Republicans can be Great Communicators.

Great Communicators are well-connected white dudes.

Great Communicators made their bones delivering messages written by someone else.

Great Communicators have learned to produce realistic looking fictions, usually by creating and discarding multiple takes until best ones can be edited together later in a process the Great Communicator himself has little or no part in.

Great Communicators are good at memorizing scripts and reading off of cue cards and Teleprompters.

Great Communicators look good in the suits sent up from wardrobe.

Great Communicators benefit from good make-up artists.

Great communicators learn their craft in media designed to sell popcorn and soap.

I dunno--too cynical? Maybe. But I worry the day may not be far off when I'll open the morning paper to discover that even Sonny Bono has been elevated post mortem to the ranks of . . . oh, man, I can't even make myself say it.

1 comment:

Thomas Ware said...

I suppose I could be as serious about a character actor who made cameo appearnces in conspiracy whacko tv programs X-Files and Dark Skies hunting illegal aliens as I could about a Venice Beach body builder or a chimpanzee's bunkmate.

[Reagan - the Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man (Country Joe?). Having volunteered to "reup" during the hostage crisis, I spent the first half of the eighties living on the high cascade in a school bus with guns, dogs (Dobermans), kids (children), goats and a three year supply of ammunition and dried goods. I mapped out, before the intertubes, the ash fallout from St. Helens so that where ever I was in Oregon or Washingon I could get my family to the foot of a glacier and a thousand year supply of fresh water* when Raygun started a nuclear exchange with the Soviets. (*bwahahahahah)]