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May 6, 2006

TV With The Sound Off


I was thinking about my good friend Digby’s citation that “politics is TV with the sound turned off.”

With that in mind, I was wondering if CNN and Paula Zahn thought they drew blood in Zahn’s attempted harassment of CIA analyst Ray McGovern.  If you missed it, McGovern is the man who froze Rummy in the headlights this week after confronting him for lying about the existence of Iraqi WMD. (Transcript/video.)

Reading with the sound off, there were at least three things that stood out to me in this face-off.


First, I was amused by the titling.

In two separate passes, McGovern is identified by the (only appropriate) title of “Former CIA analyst,” then immediately reframed in the identity of “Rumsfeld Critic.”  Sure, it’s subtle, but it subliminally effects a shift in stature and context.  One thing it implies, for example, is that McGovern is the prosecutor when, in fact, that agenda belongs almost purely to Zahn.  (If not a perfect example, just imagine a title popping up under Paula — in the middle of a cheap swipe — labeled “McGovern Critic.”)


Given the cheap currency of “talking head” rhetoric, McGovern executed a very nice kinesthetic move.  Seemingly quite familiar with the Defense Secretary, he recounted Rummy’s behavior by mimicking him. (This frame is where McGovern says: “I get upset when Donald Rumsfeld shakes his head and says: ‘Lies. Gosh, lies.  I hate it when some say our President would tell lies’.”)  The way McGovern dips his head and does that teeth gritting, sneering thing, it reminds me of Rummy shaking off questions at a DOD briefing.

Last, but certainly not least, I was amused by the CNN heading in the still at the top of this post.  I find it completely ironic — although I doubt think the network had any clue.  In their zeal to paint McGovern as a Rumsfeld stalker, what’s funny-sad is that the “rough crowd” turns out to be Zahn and her production posse — in combination with a dignified guest who wasn’t going to stoop to it.

View Zahn-McGovern video here.


(Postscript:  Thanks to Patrick for the original attribution to Rove.  Sort of rich how this visual analyst/Administration agonist missed that connection!)

(screen shots: CNN via

  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    “Politics is TV with the sound off” is actually a maxim commonly attributed to Karl Rove.

  • PTate in MN

    Nice call on the “tough crowd” frame. I don’t watch TV news so Paula Zahn is a stranger to me. Just looking at the two faces, I would consider the man’s face to be trustworthy & knowledgable and the woman’s face to be full of deceit and artifice. He has depth and credibility. She is shallow.
    So people who watch this program must have learned to like her after repeated exposure.

  • ahpook

    Ray McGovern is really, really good on TV. He’s developed the skill (as Brad DeLong says) of “looking at the camera and pretending it’s a person he cares very much about”. McGovern gives good interview, as on Robert Greenwald’s “Uncovered” documentary and he is a much more effective critic for his cause than the “wave a sign, chant a slogan, get thrown out” crew.

  • lytom

    After viewing and listening to the video:
    I find Paula Zahn strenuously trying to present Rumsfeld in a good light. Since when should media defend or hide lies from the public scrutiny?
    What is in it for CNN?

  • margaret

    Mr. McGovern didn’t suffer from Zahn’s attempt to appear “neutral.” He did not need any help from her to make the points that he wanted to make. His clarity and apparent honesty were just the medicine this culture needs right now.

  • momly

    “It is not a matter of axes to grind. It’s a matter of telling the truth. And we pledged, in my day at the CIA, to tell it without fear or favor, to tell it like it is. And, when I see that corrupted, that is the real tragedy of this whole business.”
    Some more truth telling??? Wow! I must have died and gone to heaven!

  • black dog barking

    This format is designed to grab and keep your attention even if the sound is off. If you’re in a bar, restaurant, or mall it reaches out saying with effect — don’t pay attention to the world around you, Look At The Box. Ms Zahn is forced by the format to tell 45 second stories, make those stories more interesting the competing text story crawling across the bottom of the screen. Paula Zahn NOW focuses on, well, now?
    The shallowness of the narrative is built in, structural. On a strictly limited pixel budget Ray McGovern “Fmr CIA Analyst” and “Rumsfeld Critic” graphics are fair statements. Ms Zahn labors under tight time constraints that pretty much guarantee inadequate coverage of any story with any depth. Arguably her approach skews the outcome towards Rumsfield but a lot of that may be because Rumsfeld enters the field with more stature than his challenger. These small bits yield a very small sample, much too small to make an accurate judgement. This lack of information is also an artifact of the “news” format.
    Mr McGovern does come across well as ahpook noted. His original question was handled nicely too. His calm demeanor scores effectively across the spectrum, presentation and information.

  • Marysz

    You have to hand it to citizens like McGovern who are willing to go into the snakepit of a CNN interview that they know is stacked against them and can come out honorably. Most of us ordinary folk would just end up getting hammered.
    It’s hard to know how much this media manipulation really works. They trashed Clinton, but he still had high approval ratings. And, for all their cheerleading for Bush and his “war on terror,” the Administration’s poll numbers are tanking. On the other hand, according to this story in the Washington Post, Fox News supposedly influenced just enough of the electorate to give the Republicans the last election (unless of course, the election was stolen).

  • Victor F

    I didn’t watch the clip because my computer at work is ill-equipped to handle video, but I read the transcript. That was a pretty short interview, I must say. 24/7 TV news is difficult for me to follow any more because of how fast-paced and content(context?)-light it is. The brevity used in the actual broadcast presentation of a news story is rubbing off on internet news production. The “top stories” headlines on CNN’s website can be so bizarrely worded it’s any wonder I keep visiting it every day. But, TV sets the new standard of Lowest Common Denominator, which people used to complain newspapers did. You don’t even have to be literate to watch most TV. You just barely have to be literate to read CNN label somebody “Rumsfeld Critic.” Well, then you’ve got the whole story, why even turn up the volume? “Rumsfeld critic criticizes Rumsfeld, Zahn asks questions. Over to Jimmy for today’s sports scores.”
    Zahn took a side in that interview maybe because she wants to appear sympathetic to the GOP ruling class, but probably because as a journalist it’s one tactic one can use in an interview evoke an answer. There are times when you can’t appear to be too much in your interviewee’s corner. But McGovern knows his stuff and didn’t fall into a trap.

  • Rafael

    Carlson Tucker tried something like that, but Mr. McGovern shot him down so quickly that it left him sputtering.

  • error27

    I think it’s not fair to our president for people to use difficult words like “non sequitur” in political discussions.

  • readytoblowagasket

    The BAG says: “In two separate passes, McGovern is identified by the (only appropriate) title of ‘Former CIA analyst,’ then immediately reframed in the identity of ‘Rumsfeld Critic.’ Sure, it’s subtle, but it subliminally effects a shift in stature and context.”
    Actually, the “Rumsfeld Critic” label is neither “subtle” nor “subliminal,” which, according to Webster’s is something that functions “below the threshold of consciousness.” This is quite apparent, conscious, deliberate, blatant. An intentional slur, as the word “Critic” has an inherently negative meaning for most people (“one given to harsh or captious judgment”). Such heavy-handed manipulation seems pretty obvious to me, so let’s call it like it is: Paula Zahn and CNN suck. No need to assume Zahn’s objective, because she just proved she’s not, therefore no need to pay her any respect or give her any benefit of the doubt. There are many other word choices in the English language, and there are people on the CNN staff who get paid plenty to choose them. Do we imagine Conservatives would find the label “Rumsfeld Expert” a subtle choice? It fits.

  • cj

    Call me naive, hopeful, one-who-has-too-much-time-on-his-hands, or whatever, but I have a little different “spin” on the Zahn-McGovern blip. We live in a time where the “media” is by default a mouthpiece of “liberal bias” (i.e. lacks credibility in the eyes of “middle America”). Maybe Zahn (CNN) was just trying to get into the shoes of “middle America” in order to 1) shed the elitist liberal taint and 2) bring the news to the “people.” By playing the role of the skeptic (and perhaps giving McGovern a taste of his own medicine), Zahn, in a sense forces McGovern to make his case. McGovern can either address the issues/questions or try to squirm his way out of them. After watching the video, all I can say is that, I thought the interview worked well (particularly “the ax to grind” exchange) and McGovern’s actions at the meeting with Rumsfeld were vindicated. If “middle America” was watching, they had to notice McGovern’s poise and candor in answering “tough” questions. Now if only Rove would put this in the administration playbook and use it at the next team meeting…….

  • wmcq

    Perhaps Paula’s title should be: Rumsfeld Apologist?

  • Cactus

    I bypassed this at first since I don’t watch CNN any more, but over the weekend I heard a brief tape of the interview. IMHO, Zahn was snarky at best and her questions were on the order of “so when did you quit beating your wife.”
    It’s sad to see what has happened to Teds baby since he left.

  • Martin

    Wasn’t there a Comedy Central show called “Tough Crowd” with Colin Quinn where he would invite several comedian friends to discuss the issues of the day in a casually brutal, humorous way?

  • ummabdulla

    My Meeting With Rumsfeld by Ray McGovern

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