Election Anxiety and Election Fatigue

It's less than a week until the election, and many listeners are quick to complain about how shabbily their preferred candidate is portrayed in NPR's reporting.

Some insist that on NPR, voices of one candidate are heard more frequently than the other.

In fact, the two major candidates have been heard pretty much evenly. As the election campaign proceeds, more airtime is devoted to comparing and contrasting the positions and platforms of Bush and Kerry.

Kerry's 'Vacillation?'

A recent report (Tuesday, Oct. 19) on an NPR newscast reported that the Bush campaign plans to attack Sen. Kerry's "vacillation" on terrorism.

Using that term — vacillation — upset a number of listeners. They claim that NPR was somehow endorsing the notion that Kerry isn't tough on terrorism.

Not so, says Greg Peppers, manager of the NPR newscast unit. The news copy reads:

"President Bush spends the day traveling across Florida in a bus. He's expected to continue yesterday's theme that John Kerry's vacillation on the terror threat would endanger the country and the world."

Peppers says the attribution is clearly to the president — not to NPR. But when the election seems to be this close, listeners assume the worst.

More Kerry Than Bush?

Nancy Kroenert wonders:

"Does NPR use Kerry's voice more than Bush's? I don't listen 24 hours per day, but often it seems the newsperson tells the Kerry story, followed by Kerry's voice, bolstering the previous story. But, on the other hand, a story is told about Bush but the president's voice is seldom heard. Why is that the case?"

In fact, NPR newscasts have been astonishingly balanced in giving airtime to both candidates. By my count, it's pretty much a dead heat — both in the polls and in the newscasts.

In spite of everything in these election-obsessed times, there are still a number of listeners who hope that NPR doesn't lose sight of the rest of the world.

What Else Is Happening?

Hugh Spitzer in Seattle writes:

As I listened to this morning's report about voting in Ohio, and about the young woman who was making sure that her punch card ballot was really punched right, I experienced an overwhelming sense of boredom.

NPR has gotten to a point of TOO MUCH national election news. Most folks have already figured out how to vote. And we're getting tired of pundits. I'm getting tired of the same old rehashed stories.

How about reducing the election coverage and running more stories of the sort that NPR features during non-election years: Belarus elections, bandits in India, Indigenous rights in Mexico?

In an odd way, the over-coverage of the American elections reflects a kind of laziness. It's easy to cover. It's the same old, same old.

The election that many pundits have declared the most important in a generation has pushed out other news. That's much to the dismay of those public radio listeners who may be the only people who still want to hear about news from other places.

'A' Cat or 'Uh' Cat?

Don Peterson says he is being driven crazy by a mannerism on NPR:

An epidemic of mispronunciation has broken out in our country lately, and NPR has been infected... What I'm talking about is the word "a." It is never pronounced as if naming the first letter of the alphabet, but is simply "uh." Always "uh"— Uh cat, uh glass of wine... But when people pick up a script, something goes wrong. They feel constrained to pick out "a" and pronounce it as if reciting the alphabet… even President Bush mispronounced this word, and it's driving me crazy! True, if enough people mispronounce a word, the lexicographers will call out the new pronunciation as being correct. But try to mispronounce the word in the course of ordinary conversation. It's difficult to do consistently, and it sounds terribly stiff. I predict that the pronunciation will always be "uh."

Do you think you can spread the word within NPR? Thanks!

My dear old grammar teacher Mrs. Thompson insisted that the letter "a" is pronounced as "ay" such when the noun that follows is being stressed for effect. Otherwise the letter is pronounced "uh." This is confirmed by Webster's, but I wonder if it may be an outdated usage. Any thoughts on this would be a pleasant distraction from election madness.

'Wait, Wait! It's Not Live!'

Finally, a trade secret about public radio was revealed to listener John Picker. He was shocked, shocked to discover that so-called live radio really isn't:

Last week I went to a taping of Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! and of course learned that not only don't I hear the show live, it isn't even taped live. As an aside, I'll add that it became clear that these folk are a lot more funny when compressed and edited.

Anyway, the experience lead me to wonder what other shows I hear that I think are live are taped. Further, if taped, are they taped "live" or edited. And finally, when are they actually taped. Why bother to call in to a show that was produced days ago.

It seems to me that the shows should indicate this information... particularly those that request call-ins.

The days of truly "live" radio ended years ago. Today, when programs like Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! and Car Talk give out their number, people who call in are actually not put on the program at that time. In fact, they are called back later and "pre-interviewed." If they fit the program, they are called once again and taped with the hosts. That interview is then edited and packaged to fit the format of the program.

Picker is correct. This is not being particularly honest with the listeners. Programs such as Talk of the Nation and the The Diane Rehm Show are the exceptions since they solicit listeners' opinions in real time for a live program.

But comedy programs use the radio sleight-of-hand to give the illusion of being live.

Those of us who work in this medium need to re-think how we can still be truthful to the listener while maintaining the illusion of seamless wit and repartee.

And Picker is right about one other thing as well: We are all more amusing when we are edited.

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