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Thursday, August 23, 2012

In The Theater Of Politics, Staging Is Everything

Audio for this story from All Things Considered 
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, arrives to announce his choice of running mate aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 11.
EnlargeSaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, arrives to announce his choice of running mate aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 11.
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August 23, 2012
During the next two weeks, the major political parties will assemble their faithful in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., to officially nominate their presidential tickets. These conventions were once places of high political drama. But over the decades, as the primary system has determined the candidates well in advance, conventions have become political theater. With that in mind, there's much to be said on staging in politics — not substance, but style.
In the theater, stars are stars at least partly because of the way they're presented — in brighter lighting, on higher platforms. Lesser characters can walk onstage; stars make an entrance, preferably at the top of a staircase with the rest of the cast looking up, as Angela Lansbury did inMame, or Richard Kiley did in Man of La Mancha.
And last week, when presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney introduced his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, in Norfolk, Va., he took a page from that playbook.
Then-nominee Barack Obama's speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo., was carefully staged against a backdrop of classical pillars.
EnlargeMax Whittaker/Getty Images
Then-nominee Barack Obama's speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo., was carefully staged against a backdrop of classical pillars.
There was a slight kink in the introduction — he left the "vice" out of "vice president," essentially introducing Ryan as the next commander in chief — but Romney's glitch ceased to matter the moment the camera zoomed out for a wide shot of the U.S.S. Wisconsin. High above the stage, heralded by a fanfare from the movie Air Force One, was Ryan.
And as he bounded down a staircase, it felt as if the technicians had learned from Romney's entrance a few moments earlier. They'd let their presidential candidate hit the stage during a musical lull, but for Ryan, they timed the music perfectly. It peaked just as he walked those last few steps to embrace his running mate.
Weeks of rehearsal could not have made it more effective. It's soaring, emotionally resonant — because the music's all but dictating your reaction.
The Republicans, let's note, have not always been quite so securely at the top of their game. In the last presidential race, it was the Democrats who owned the political staging. Remember that football stadium they outfitted like a Greek amphitheater for their convention finale? Then-candidate Barack Obama was framed for his acceptance speech by towering columns on a majestic, classical stage set to communicate the idea that history was being made.
A week later, the Republicans offered candidate Sen. John McCain far more simply in a spotlight on a bare stage. Though his teleprompter was silhouetted like a music stand so that it looked like he was about to give a concert, no music pumped up his arrival. There was an IMAX-sized screen behind him, though. When it filled with a billowing American flag, the flag looked fabulous, but as the cameras pulled back to capture the full effect, the candidate looked tiny.
Now, if you're a theater nut, you know that, whether you're talking classical theater or political theater, staging matters. That's why campaigns seek picture-perfect backdrops for speeches — natural vistas when the subject is the environment, shuttered factories when talking unemployment.
And conventions are a campaign's most controlled public space, the one spot where everythingcan be made to serve the message. So during the next two weeks, it's likely to be instructive to turn down the sound on your TV and pay attention not to what the candidates are saying but to how they're being framed. Rest assured, it's all by design.
To counter perceptions that Romney is aloof and distant, for instance, Republican strategists are designing their stage in Tampa to have the warmth of a living room, with stairs running from the podium into the audience to convey the candidate's approachability.
The Democrats, meanwhile, will return in Charlotte to what worked so well for them in Denver. Their supporting cast will play a 19,000-seat indoor arena, while their leading man will deliver his acceptance speech to a far larger crowd in the city's 73,000-seat football stadium.
Will any of this matter? Well, sure, in the sense that conventions can provide a temporary bounce in the polls. But in theatrical terms, a party's convention is only its opening number: splashy spectacle designed to introduce the players and set the tone for what's to come.
There's still plenty of time on the campaign trail for falling in love with the hero, for hissing the villain, for building to that big number in the final act that seals the deal.

SAG-AFTRA Issues Journalist Safety Tips on World Press Freedom Day

A free press can only exist when those who bring us the news are able to work without fear for their lives, well-being and safety.

LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK (May 3, 2012) --- SAG-AFTRA has joined the International News Safety Institute (INSI) North America to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3, by providing journalists with resources for staying safe while covering domestic unrest, such as the Occupy protests, and the upcoming Chicago G-8 Summit. SAG-AFTRA and INSI-NA have also provided an editorial authored by veteran broadcast journalist David Browde, who shares some of his tips on keeping safe in the field.

“‘Safety first’ has to be more than just a slogan,” Browde writes in his editorial. “And each time a reporter goes into the field, he/she and their team — if there is one — should be evaluating and analyzing the risks, as well as the rewards, at every location.”

Go to to view the journalist safety tips and
for Browde’s editorial.

As the union representing broadcast professionals who often work in volatile and dangerous situations, SAG-AFTRA is committed to ensuring journalists’ safety and to educating and informing reporters and media staff about safety practices when covering civil unrest abroad and here at home.

“Safety is essential to freedom of press. Journalists and news professionals work in all conditions and often must put themselves in harm’s way just to do their jobs,” said Mary Cavallaro, SAG-AFTRA Assistant National Director of News and Broadcast. “Recently, we have had many very difficult reminders of the dangers that confront journalists every day. SAG-AFTRA believes it is important that broadcast journalists have all of the resources and support to keep them safe.”

According to INSI, more than 1,000 journalists and staff have been killed in the last 10 years while covering stories. INSI provides instruction in remaining safe while reporting in combat zones, areas experiencing unrest and natural disasters, handling trauma, dealing with arrest and keeping on top of cyber-security issues.

The recent Occupy protests and the upcoming G-8 summit in Chicago highlight the threat journalists, broadcasters and other reporting staff may face when doing their jobs. Simply turning on the evening television news makes clear the threat to professional news workers. The danger is no longer only on the combat battlefield — pepper spray, tear gas and violence by individuals, crowds and confrontations with law enforcement pose potential threats to news professionals in the field.

INSI is a nonprofit coalition of international news organizations, journalists and media professionals committed to the protection of staff who work under hostile and dangerous conditions. Since 2003, the AFTRA Foundation has served as the home of INSI in North America.

"News reporters are the vanguard of truth-seekers and are often the public's ‘window to the world.’ They routinely put themselves in harm's way to get the story and to report it to us,” said Thomas Carpenter, SAG-AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director and Chief Labor Counsel. “Making sure that our members, and all journalists, stay safe is a priority for SAG-AFTRA and it's one of the reasons we are distributing the journalist safety tips, courtesy of INSI. Press freedom is critical to a free society and reporter safety is critical to a free press.”

Carpenter also sits as an Executive Board member and treasurer of INSI and INSI North America.

First observed in 1993, UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day is marked by events around the world, including a roundtable discussion hosted at the United Nations in New York featuring INSI advisor Judith Matloff.



SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. SAG-AFTRA members are the faces and voices that entertain and inform America and the world. With national offices in Los Angeles and New York and local offices nationwide, SAG-AFTRA members work together to secure the strongest protections for media artists into the 21st century and beyond. Visit SAG-AFTRA online at

About INSI

INSI provides a global safety network of advice, training programs, resources and assistance to journalists, broadcasters, translators, photographers, camera operators, drivers and support staff who work in threatening environments while gathering news. Visit INSI at


By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Meg James, 

Hollywood has a problem. He's Cole Chanin-Hassman, and he's 10.
Like many other kids his age, the Los Angeles fourth-grader counts among his entertainment tools his Xbox 360 game console, his Android phone and his computer.
The television is almost an afterthought. When Cole comes home from school, he turns on Cartoon Network's "Regular Show," but the characters on the TV screen compete for his attention with the world-building game "Minecraft" and a parade of YouTube videos on his computer.
"Sometimes, I'll kind of lift my head up a little bit and watch," Cole said. "But usually I'm just kind of listening to [the TV] and playing on my computer."
Cole's habits illustrate the enormous challenges that confront television networks fighting to remain viable and profitable in the digital age. They're losing viewers, and they know it.
In response, some cable channels are introducing shorter episodes to reach multi-tasking kids with shorter attention spans. They're bulking up online content to feed the ravenous appetites of younger users. And they're listening to social media conversations about their shows — in some cases even changing plot lines to suit audience tastes.
"The networks ... are all struggling with younger people," said Neil Howe, an authority on generations and president of the consulting firm LifeCourse Associates. "The big danger is whether [networks] will become gradually less relevant" and disappear from younger viewers' screens altogether.
America's 67 million baby boomers once commanded advertisers' attention because of their spending power and sheer number. But the prized demographic is now the millennial generation: the 98 million people ages 7 to 29. These digital natives represent nearly one-third of the U.S. population, and they're proving an elusive target for networks and advertisers to reach.
Viewers of all ages are recording TV shows and fast-forwarding through commercials. But the practice is almost reflexive for millennials: About 41% watch shows recorded earlier on their DVRs, according to a study from Boston Consulting Group and ad agency Barkley.
Millennials still watch television shows, but not always the old-fashioned way: lounging on a couch, remote control in hand, surfing through the channels. Increasingly, they're streaming episodes on their computers, or fetching shows delivered to the TV set via game consoles or other Internet-connected devices, according to a survey by youth research firm Ypulse. This disrupts the decades-old methods advertisers have relied on to reach consumers.
"One of the biggest reasons that online streaming of TV shows in particular has taken off like crazy is that networks are finally embracing the fact that this is where their audience is," said Melanie Shreffler, Ypulse editor in chief.
Younger viewers are avid fans. But networks are having trouble adapting to their fickle viewing habits.
Television networks such as the CW are at the nexus of the forces reshaping the entertainment industry. Launched six years ago, the CW initially approached its audience like any other television network — expecting viewers to tune in at appointed times to watch its shows.
They didn't. Instead they began watching episodes online, through illicit pirate sites. So the CW began offering such shows as "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries" on the Internet within hours of an episode's TV airing. A new mobile application allows viewing on iPhones, iPads and Android and Kindle devices.
"This millennial generation is the 'I know what I want, when I want it and
how I want it,'" said Rick Haskins, the CW's executive vice president of marketing and digital programs. "You need to supply them the product, however they want to consume it."
Digital now accounts for 18% of the network's total viewing — a rate that has doubled within a year, Haskins said. The network's research found that 93% of viewers who streamed episodes had not watched them on TV — expanding the audience for its shows. The CW also worked with Nielsen and Google to provide demographic information about mobile audiences to make this audience more attractive to advertisers.
But meeting viewers on their own terms can be fraught with peril.
Nickelodeon saw its ratings drop this season by about 25% compared with last season. The plunge came after the network made more episodes of "SpongeBob SquarePants," "iCarly" and other shows available through Netflix so young children could watch old episodes through their game consoles and other Internet-connected devices.
Top Viacom executives attributed the decline to several factors, including the difficulty of accurately measuring young viewers' behavior on so many screens. Nickelodeon is responding by rolling out 650 new episodes of programming in the upcoming season to woo back viewers.

Unions are about more than money

When people think of a labor union, they think of an organization that fights for more money and rights for its members. This is true.
For example, in 2011, union members were paid on average 29 percent more than their non-union counterparts, and are more likely to have health benefits and better working conditions than workers who are not unionized.
But unions are about more than that. Unions are about human rights and human dignity.
At Allan Hancock College, I once observed a dean publicly humiliating and degrading a group of part-time instructors. As I saw this verbal abuse taking place, I realized these people were confronted with three equally bad choices — they could take it and say nothing; they could protest it and get fired; or they could quit their jobs and endure the financial hardship that would follow. They had no other recourse.
They had no place to go to register a complaint. They had no one to speak up for them. It was after witnessing this that I decided to get involved in the nascent union organizing movement on campus.
In 1999, the part-time instructors, counselors and librarians at Hancock College voted with an 87-percent majority to form a union. This came as a shock to the administration, which seemed to have convinced itself the part-time faculty were content with their status as being one of the lowest paid in the state, having no offices or paid office hours, being expected to prepare their classes and grade their students’ work on their own time, and having no rights or appreciation for their efforts. A part-time instructor could serve loyally for 20 years and do an outstanding job, but if the dean decided not to rehire her or him for the next semester, she or he did not get rehired, and that was the end of the story.
Our first task was to negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement, which we completed in 2001. Along with a 14-percent increase in pay, we also negotiated a right to a grievance process, a modicum of job security, paid office hours and, most importantly, recognition by the district that part-time academic employees on campus play an important and essential role in the educational process. Until then, we had been invisible as far as the administration was concerned — simply names plugged into a time slot, one no different from the other. Part-time teachers were simply used to fill a need, then discarded if needed no longer.
In the years since, we have continued to improve the circumstances of part-time academic employees. Pay for our bargaining unit has increased by more than 50 percent. We now have job security and seniority rights. Representatives of part-time faculty participate in the shared governance process, with seats on the College Council and Budget Council, among others. For the first time, the voices and concerns of part-time instructors are being heard, and their influence felt in the college’s governing bodies, making them feel they are part of the campus community, and their efforts are being recognized and appreciated.
Recognizing the worth and dignity of every person and the work they perform is essential. People need to be appreciated, and their work needs to be honored. Unfortunately employers, whether public entities or private enterprise, often fail to do that. Unions provide a mechanism through which working people can have their worth recognized. Unions are about human rights and human dignity.

Mark James Miller is president of the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, California Federation of Teachers Local 6187. He can be reached at

Life is social....

Judge who said Obama could trigger civil war should resign

By Josh Levs, CNN
Judge Tom Head said President Barack Obama's re-election would be
Judge Tom Head said President Barack Obama's re-election would be "the very worst thing that could happen."
  • NEW: Democrats call for county judge Tom Head's resignation
  • NEW: The county Republican chief offers Head "moral support"
  • Head says Obama will try to give U.S. sovereignty away to the U.N.
  • The warning was linked to a push for taxes, CNN affiliate KJTV reported
(CNN) -- Texas Democrats are calling for the resignation of a Republican elected county judge who warned this week that the nation could descend into civil war if President Barack Obama is re-elected.
"It's really up to Judge (Tom) Head to do the right thing and resign and stop embarrassing Lubbock County," said Kenny Ketner, who became the county Democratic Party's chief Monday.
"I wish we were getting worldwide attention for something better than a crazy county judge," Ketner told CNN. "But what are you going to do?"
There is no recall process for Head's office in Texas, Ketner said.
The county's Republican Party chief, Carl Tepper, accused the Democrats of "opportunism" and said he called Head and left him a message offering "moral support."
"I don't agree with him, but everyone has their opinion. I can respectfully disagree with him and he can still be an elected official," Tepper said.
While Tepper said he has not heard from state Republican Party chiefs, the Texas Democratic Party did weigh in with a statement.
"This nonsense is what passes for mainstream in today's Republican Party," the statement said. "It's not only ridiculous, it's dangerous. It's crystal clear that Judge Head should resign."
In his remarks this week, Head called for a trained, well-equipped force to battle the United Nations troops that he said Obama would bring in.

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or, to accept the responsibility for changing them..."

                                   --Dennis Waitley