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The political Interview (and working memory of TV viewers)

British cognitive scientist John Duncan has some rather sharp observations about (political) TV interviews (in his latest book).

Often, when a government politician is invited into the TV studio to debate a controversial item on the current political agenda, the interview ends in squabbling and strife. And with noone feeling any wiser after the debate.
John Duncan has some pretty good ideas on why it often ends this way, and what debating rules needs to be enforced in order to avoid the mindless squabbling, and have a real debate.

Usually it goes something like this:

For each item (on the polical agenda) there are usually 4 positive things to say and 4 negative things to say…

– The TV host starts out by stating 1 of the 4 negative soundbites.
– The politician will then NOT answer the soundbite, but ignore it,
as being completely irrelevant, and then give the viewers one
of the 4 rehearsed positive soundbites….
– The host then gives another negative soundbite, which is answered
with another positive soundbite.
And on it goes for the allotted time.

All the time it is assumed that the working memory of the TV viewers
is so poor, that they can’t remember what is being ignored (not answered).

When given a “non answer”- some positive soundbite, which doesn’t address
the negative soundbite at all – the “clever” TV host then rephrases the negative soundbite – but very rarely states the obvious – that there is a disconnect between question and answer.
– and that this is no way to have a serious debate.

When politician face politician in TV debates it is even worse.
Again – for each item on the political agenda each has rehearsed 4 positive or negative soundbites.
If, after a while, no “winner” has materialized – the typical
politician will then lash out with with some known weakness in the opponents platform (which might have nothing to with the subject beeing debated).
E.g. In a debate on economics one politician might state that the
other politician doesn’t like the nationalflag, is against homeschooling – or likewise …
Logically, this makes absolutely no sense (in the context of a debate about the economy). Indeed a politician might have perfectly sound views about the economy – and in a debate about the economy you really can’t proove that your opponent is wrong
(on the economy) by stating his views about the national flag!….?

Still, the tactics is used al the time- and noone cries foul when it is
done.
Basicly, completely distorting the political debate.

Again it is assumed that the working memory of TV viewers are so poor,
that they can’t remember what item on the political agenda are
really being debated.
And that viewers will take sides on an economically debate (where they might not be able to decide), based on what candidates are saying about e.g. the national flag (or some other non-related issue).

Surely, John Duncan is right in stating that the level of political debate could do with some improved basic rules and standards. And that we could easily do without the mindless bickering.

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