Elec­tion time winkin’, blinkin’ and nod

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­[email protected]

There was a time when “nod­dies” were in use, pri­mar­ily in the tele­vi­sion news busi­ness — a piece of hokey act­ing that pro­duc­ers uti­lized to cam­ou­flage ed­its in taped in­ter­views, but al­most as im­por­tantly, to con­vince view­ers the jour­nal­ists ask­ing the ques­tions were al­ways smoth­ered in em­pa­thy and cu­rios­ity, hang­ing on ev­ery word be­ing said.

Even if you weren’t im­mersed in tele­vi­sion jar­gon, and hadn’t ever heard the word “nod­dies,” you prob­a­bly wit­nessed the trick thou­sands of times, obliv­i­ous to the video cheats.

It worked (and oc­ca­sion­ally still works) this way: once the in­ter­view is con­cluded, per­haps a 15-minute event that will have to even­tu­ally be cut to five min­utes, the sin­gle cam­era in the room is di­rected to­wards the jour­nal­ist who will be taped do­ing his “nod­dies,” some­times af­ter the in­ter­view sub­ject has left the room. He or she will nod (you’re ahead of me here) in as sin­cere a fash­ion as pos­si­ble, and will oc­ca­sion­ally smile, or dis­play a look of sad­ness or be­wil­der­ment, the whole gamut of emo­tions, de­pend­ing, of course, on the ex­tent of the th­es­pian tal­ents of the re­porter.

The jour­nal­ist will some­times re­peat ques­tions that had been posed dur­ing the ac­tual in­ter­view — “re-asks” in tele­vi­sion lan­guage; the “nod­dies” and the “re-asks” then in­serted in the video prod­uct dur­ing the edit­ing process, wher­ever and when­ever re­quired.

Even the ven­er­a­ble and enor­mously bud­geted “60 Min­utes,” seem­ingly around since Je­sus scuffed around in tiny san­dals, has used the ploy ex­ten­sively, their in­ter­views look­ing as if they were two-cam­era oper­a­tions, one aimed at the in­ter­vie­wee, the other at the in­ter­viewer.

And yes, hypocrisy ac­knowl­edged: I’ve been there, done that. Many, many times. It’s the na­ture of the cre­ative beast. At least that’s how I cir­cum­vented any eth­i­cal quandary that may have mo­men­tar­ily arisen in my mind.

Last month, though, ever since Pierre’s boy Justin forced Cana­di­ans to be­gin months of watch­ing politi­cians ped­dling them­selves, I was re­minded once again of how the nod­dies have gone way be­yond boob­tube jour­nal­ism, and have been in­serted reg­u­larly by flacks into the sales jobs un­der­taken on tele­vi­sion on be­half of their bosses.

Just about ev­ery gath­er­ing of a po­lit­i­cal leader I saw on tele­vi­sion in­cluded a horde of sup­port­ers in the back­ground, nod­ding ap­proval at ev­ery syl­la­ble voiced by their favoured politi­cian, look­ing ev­ery bit like those lit­tle toy dogs you see through the back win­dows of cars, the heads in a con­stant state of bob­bing.

A re­porter would ask a ques­tion, and even as the politi­cian be­gan his an­swer, the syco­phants — sta­tioned in cam­era view by the PR flunkies — had al­ready started their bob­ble-head doll rou­tine. If the politi­cian so much as burped or broke wind (I’m all about good taste, as you can tell), the crowd be­hind, I am con­vinced, would have nod­ded the equiv­a­lent of a four-star rat­ing.

Can­di­dates Nick Whalen and Sea­mus O’Re­gan were the noddy b’ys in St. John’s the other week when Trudeau dropped into St. John’s for a to­ken, ever-so-brief cam­paign stop, al­though the photo op also in­cluded the Lib­eral leader’s awk­ward sit-down with a bunch of young­sters who danced around like crazed loons for the cam­eras. It brought the an­cient and dis­com­fort­ing art of kiss­ing ba­bies dur­ing po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns to an ex­ploita­tive low.

But it’s those ob­se­quious and sucky nod­dies we’ll see in abun­dance dur­ing the fed­eral elec­tion­eer­ing: at ral­lies, in scrums with the trav­el­ling press corps, and in feet-shuf­fling ads.

Not that the nod­dies are re­served for elec­tion cam­paigns; they seem to be a prop in many a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise in re­cent times.

Lo­cal cabi­net min­is­ters like Gerry Byrne and Siob­han Coady, for in­stance, seem to have the noddy rou­tine down pat when­ever their boss, Dwight Ball, hap­pens to be an­nounc­ing new ways of sav­ing our fi­nan­cial souls.

But they’ve got plenty of com­pany, al­though Perry Trimper had not so much as a shot at do­ing his own noddy for the pre­mier, pre­vented from do­ing so dur­ing his ten­ure as the sup­posed non-par­ti­san Speaker of the House, and for­ever by his ouster from the cabi­net af­ter be­ing taped mak­ing those un­am­bigu­ous racist com­ments. (I think Trimper may have bro­ken the record for the short­est ten­ure for a New­found­lan­der in a cabi­net, an em­bar­rass­ing record held by Roger Sim­mons who was forced from Justin’s fa­ther Pierre’s cabi­net af­ter only 11 days when an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into tax­a­tion im­pro­pri­eties be­gan. John Cros­bie, then in op­po­si­tion, dined out for­ever on Sim­mons’ ig­no­min­ious fall from grace, as you can imag­ine).

At the lo­cal level, nod­dies are not con­fined to the Ball con­tin­gent. Tories and ND Pers are surely blessed with noddy tal­ents, loyal sol­diers all. Keep watch­ing.

Nor are the nod­dies de­liv­ered ex­clu­sively in pub­lic. Can you imag­ine the nod­dies around the cabi­net ta­ble and in the cau­cus room dur­ing the Danny Wil­liams era, as, for in­stance, when he launched the legacy ship Muskrat Falls, our own Ti­tanic?

Nor are nod­dies unique to Cana­dian politi­cians. Just think of those ral­lies Don­ald Trump held, and con­tin­ues to hold, with zom­bie-like sup­port­ers be­hind him nod­ding their sup­port for ev­ery sin­gle inanity he mut­ters.

But back to the North: have some fun dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign and take a gan­der at the nod­dies.

You can then ig­nore what the politi­cian is say­ing.

A bless­ing, re­ally.

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