Archive for October 24th, 2006

Talking Heads

In his very laudatory Foreword to Why Johnny Can’t Think Joe Sobran said you couldn’t even really call it a book. He was right in the usual sense of that term. It is not a book because there are no talking heads in it.

I am about to write to book about American history from the Southern point of view. Those who love Southern history know that there are few places outside of Elizabethan England from which greater oratory came. That thundering speech is what most of us love to quote.

Those who look to my book for it will be deeply, sorely, heartbrokenly disappointed.

And furious.

I write logic, not oratory. I am pretty good at real oratory myself. I had the paychecks to prove it.

What Sobran wanted was more quotes and especially more quotes from Great Men about how bad things are in America. My book was based on the proposition that everybody could see what I was talking about by a proper reading of the magazines in a doctor’s waiting room.

After one hundred-hour-a-week job after another, steam-cooker pressure job in Washington, I had had enough. So I took a nice, forty-hour-week career job as a writer for the Voice of America.

Needless to say, that “easy” job was the one that did me in. It wasn’t any scary assignments abroad. I could handle an assault weapon.

What did me in was the tape recorder.

All the editors at VOA came from the cookie cutter that produces all media writers today. You have to have a “talking head” in every discussion. So every time you have a TV reporter say, “Many government officials feel that lemons are sour” they have to cut to a clip that shows a man with the words, “James L. Kliphammer, D-New York” below his picture saying, “In my opinion, lemons are sour.”

This is what is called “a talking head” that says what everybody knows. Every cookie-cutter reporter has to do that.

So I was paid the highest salary of any writer in my area because I was an expert on American government. My fatal assignment was to explain the workings of the American government for foreign broadcasts.

Every broadcast had to have two “talking heads.”

To get a “talking head” that week, you had to arrange an interview with an official at the part of the government you were talking about, do a taped interview with him, and then write so that some piece of the tape you had made could be cut and quoted.

I had to cut the tape myself. Anyone who has ever done this will tell you it is, to say the least, tedious. So is setting up an interview in that week. Two of them are twice the fun.

The cookie-cutters were all trained in news departments. What I was doing was not news. I was trying to explain the workings of the many segments of the United States Government to foreigners. It is not easy to explain the workings of the United States Government to Americans. But trying to treat the Federal Communications Commission as if it were a news item and sticking in talking heads made the task impossible. The FCC was not invented this week and the place of a regulatory agency inside the administrative machinery of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches is not helped by the current opinion of some appointee.

My books were NOT cookie-cutter books. They are explanations of what you already know or should know from a different point of view. I had to rewrite “Why Johnny Can’t Think” fifteen times, and I don’t think there’s a quote in the whole thing.

I don’t WRITE talking heads. I AM the talking head here.

I WROTE the quotes they used from congressmen and senators and cabinet members and the president. At age forty I couldn’t adjust to trying to fit some inane remarks into the complicated explanation they hired me for.

And after I left they couldn’t find a product of the cookie-cutter who COULD.

So my last book was not a REAL book.

My next one won’t be either.