Monday, July 30, 2012


Where's the Beef?
“Where’s the beef?”

“There you go again…”

And, don’t forget the scream.

During the debates leading to the Democratic nomination in 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale famously asked his opponent, Senator Gary Hart (D-CO), "where's the beef?"  He was challenging Hart to provide details instead of just visionary concepts.  Hart was talking about the need to support entrepreneurship since small businesses create about 90% of the jobs in this country (about 28 years before it was popular to talk about it).  But, Mondale stole the show with his one liner cribbed from a popular Wendy's TV Commercial and that’s how the news reported it.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in London last week.  He needs a few smiling shots with foreign leaders to bolster his campaign.  But, whatever his purpose, it has been sidetracked by the sideshow resulting from his rather innocuous remarks about the London Olympics.  I have listened to his Brian Williams interview – the whole thing not just the sound bites – and I didn’t think he said anything so awful.  But, we live in a world where every word and phrase is parsed by the press, interpreted, reinterpreted and misinterpreted.

Of course, the master of managing the media was the “Great Communicator”, President Ronald Reagan.  His supporters enjoyed his bravado.  Remember when he said, “I paid for this microphone…”  It was during the New Hampshire Republican candidate debates in 1980.  He used the line to keep the moderator from cutting him off.  That line got played and replayed by TV news.  No one bothered to point out that he stole the line from a Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movie called State of the Union in which Spencer Tracy was – you guessed it – running for President of the United States.  And, of course, no one remembers the issues being debated as well as they remember that line.

Perhaps Reagan’s most famous debate line was, "There you go again..." responding to then President Jimmy Carter during the presidential debate later that same year when Carter was challenging Reagan’s position on Medicare.  The Medicare debate is hardly remembered but the line is. 

And, what about Howard Dean's scream?  The former Vermont Governor and 2008 presidential candidate got a bit overexcited at a rally and let out a yahoo that offended the sensibilities of… well, almost everybody.  The governor was leading in the polls to that point.  But, the scream which was played and replayed by all the news outlets… that scream was his undoing. 

Governor Romney has been through this drill before.  He famously said, “I am not worried about the poor” and was raked over the coals for that.  Did you hear the whole statement?  What he actually said was that he wasn’t worried about the very rich who are obviously doing well or the poor who have a safety net; he was worried about the middle class.  As an aside, he added that if the safety net has some holes in it, he would fix them.  Does that sound like what was reported? 

President Obama knows what it’s like, too.  He is being attacked for saying that entrepreneurs weren’t responsible for building their own businesses.  Here is the exact quote:  “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Was he talking about the businesses or the roads and bridges?  Well, if you have the opportunity to read or listen to the whole statement, you can decide for yourself.  But, the media typically clips out the sound bite that will be most inflammatory.  So, they decide for you. 

Isn’t it interesting that the sound bites of the 80’s were taken out of the context of issues we are still debating today?  Medicare, entrepreneurship?  Shouldn’t the media be doing a deep dive on those topics?  The answer is obvious.  Instead, watching the news makes me wonder:

Where’s the beef? 


  1. Today, everyone is concerned about "Whose got the Chicken"? My point being, the reason we aren't getting the beef, chicken, or the fish is that our need to fulfill our protein requirements are being used to distract us from the real issues.

    Where's the jobs? Where's spending cuts? Where's taxpayer's money gone? Where's the justice at the Department of Justice? Where's the Transparency? Where's the Leadership (that's for you John). And most importantly ......... WHERE'S THE TRUTH?
    Posted by Ken Mayeaux

  2. John, can you really fail to see the distinction between the comments of the two presidential candidates?

    Governor Romney was principally taking note of the call up of 18,000 troops to provide security for the Olympics. All he did was acknowledge that the British government confessed to being ill-prepared. There was initial backlash about his comments, to be sure, and the US networks, who seem to wish the President to remain the President, made the most of it, but British commentators quickly confessed that Romney's assessment was accurate.

    President Obama's comment has gone viral because it's an accurate assessment of his economic policy. It seems that the President's main purpose in life these days is to raise the taxes of those earning $250,000. A comment such as the one he made goes hand in hand with that objective. His evident desire is to paint "the rich" as people who were lucky, people who didn't really earn their money, but rather folks who took advantage of the work of others. This is why he's attempting so much damage control on that speech - he (unfortunately, with regard to the fortunes of his campaign) revealed himself.

    There are certainly motivations behind the publication of these sound bytes. In Governor Romney's case, an adversarial press is trying to find something it can hang on him. In President Obama's case, he made the mistake of actually verbalizing what he thinks, and the anti-Socialist backlash is totally warranted.
    Posted by Chris Maddix

  3. Chris, the post wasn't about the distinction between the comments of the two presidential candidates. It was about the press' disinclination to examine the issues.

  4. Chris Maddix • John, my point was that one of these (the attack on Romney, which reportedly continues) fits your description of the antagonistic media trying to create a "gaffe" where none exists, the other (the revelation about the depth of Obama's socialist leanings) does not. Obama was not "taken out of context." He said what he believes, his quote is recited verbatim, and it lines up with his anti-capitalist campaign rhetoric.

  5. Fox News reported the whole quote but only after this opening paragraph:

    "President Obama, in a speech to supporters, suggested business owners owe their success to government investment in infrastructure and other projects -- saying “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
    Obama’s comment Friday during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va., came just days after he urged Congress to extend tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration only to families earning less than $250,000 annually -- part of his argument that top earners have an obligation to pay more to trim the deficit."

    Read more:

  6. Jason Gagnon • John, you're right that the post was about the media's complete ignorance of any depth in order to just pull the sound bite they think will get the most play on blogs and discussions from then on. (ironically... 'Where's the beef is a poor choice of an example of that since almost everyone remembers that was a Wendy's commercial and, while definitely a sound bite in its purest form, it also portrays the full depth necessary to understand the context it was in ;-)). And you are ABSOLUTELY correct about the poor state of journalism and the propensity of Americans to much prefer the 1 second clip to actually knowing what's happening.

    However, Chris is absolutely correct in saying that the comparison between Romney's 'care about the poor' or his London security comment and Obama's 'you didn't build that' is non-sensical. The more you read the context of Obama's line the WORSE he derided small business owners! No one is going to argue that a small business succeeds 100% because of one person (you have to have customers at the very least ;-)), but to suggest that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates shouldn't get THE credit for building their businesses because someone else built the roads or even the microprocessors is just ludicrous. A good comparison would be Michael Phelps (assume an individial instead of relay medal for this one). Who gets the credit for his Gold Medal? Him. And no one would dare to argue that. But even his ego aacknowledges that there were coaches and training facilities and even opponents that helped him along... but the credit is his and to say otherwise would get a commentator pounded into media obscurity in no time.
    But again, you're right... if the media would bother to actually look at the issues, then they could find plenty to hammer Romney on just from his actions (and no, Bain Capital aint' it, either ;-)) instead of trying to manufacture a sound bite that paints him as ... whatever. But the issues and Obama's own words damn him without any help from the media... and in spite of their attempts to clip sound bites that don't sound that bad.

  7. Jason, you and Chris raise a fair point in making the distinction between Romney's comments and Obama's. But, many liberals have interpreted Obama's comments differently than you have.

    As for "where's the beef?" being a poor example, I respectfully disagree. I well remember the news coverage. There was virtually no discussion of Hart's position on entrepreneurship. However, the clip of Mondale asking "where's the beef?" was played and replayed.

  8. Count me as a liberal who's interpreted Obama's comments very differently than the conservative readers above.

    Please point out exactly where in Obama's comments he derided small businesses? He was merely reminding us that NO business - no entrepreneur - big or small, can be successful without the basic underpinnings of infrastructure: roads, bridges, dependable electricity and safe water, and perhaps most important - a sound educational system supported by good teachers.

    He's absolutuely correct and his words were a totally topical reminder which speaks to the extreme right (apparently, today's hijacked Republican party) as it attempts to paint everything the "government" does as wasteful, unnecessary or irrelavent.

    As to Romney's remarks, I'd only say: poor timing. He wasn't wrong in his statements but it's rather lame to cite security shortcomings in a huge, multi-cultural city of over 8 million (metropolitan pop. of almost 14 million) with a city of less than 200,000 (met. pop. of 1.4 million, or one-tenth of London's). Romney's success in turning the Winter Olympics around, in no small thanks to, ahem, U.S. government assistance, was a feather in his cap. He should have just congratulated them, maybe tooted his own horn, and left it at that.

    On the topic of the news media's role in informing the public, rather than hyping the sound bites and repeating the slogans I'd say this: THE COMMERICAL NEWS MEDIA IS JUST THAT: COMMERCIAL. Their focus is on maximizing advertising revenues and you do this by making news "entertaining."

    Real facts, in-depth investigative reporting, and the challenging of news makerss simply isn't as entertaining as latching onto the clever phrases and funny punch lines. Why bore people with in-depth, meaningful coverage of an event when you can entertain them with "fun facts," irrelevant trivia, and catchy lines like "where's the beef?"

    Viewers and listeners prefer entertainment over substance and that translates into an increased audience which translates into increased ad revenue. Hence, the dumbing down of commercial broadcast news.

    In the end, we may get what we want but we don't get what we need.

    Bruce Scottow