|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?