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Bill Clinton Didn’t Punch Barack Obama in the Face

Last night hundreds of Georgians packed into a gym on the campus of Kennesaw State University, where I teach, to hear former President Bill Clinton give a stump speech for his wife Hillary. The man can speechify. He came in hoarse so I was thinking he will talk for just a few minutes and then hit the road. No, this is Bill Clinton maybe the greatest orator of our time. For a full hour, he took the crowd on a ride which ended with us getting cars with 100 miles to the gallon, running on gas produced from landfills in tiny refineries spread out through rural America and thus saving us from domination by oil rich countries and enriching now destitute rural communities. Go ahead he told those greedy oil producing countries, and all of us, in this new day charge us $100 a barrel, charge us $200 a barrel, charge us whatever you want because we won’t need your oil any more.

He healed our sick hospitals and anemic health care system and all but rose the lame, struck down by diabetes, from their wheelchairs  — and he did it with narratives, stories, examples and explanations that had just enough common sense logic to make them seem doable.

And for all of that, he deserved page three on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Metro page, with the headline that reads:

Former president skips Obama jabs in speeches 

Ah, if only he had taken even a tiny jab, certainly that would have pushed him to the front page of the Metro section and a nice round-house swing would have elevated him to 1A status. But no, he offered nothing more than a rousing speech for which hundreds of people, the Marietta Daily Journal said thousands, stood in line for more than an hour to hear. The wimp, the palooka. Thus not even a photo.

Okay, I get it, the hardcopy part of the newspaper only has so much room, the website will reflect the feeling of celebration. After all, this is Cobb County, Georgia, home of Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr, certainly one must ask: Where the hell did all these Democrats come from? I know that was a question people were asking in the line itself. 

The Marietta Daily Journal, the real hometown newspaper, did, in fact, run the story with big photos on Page 1A, and with a massive headline that reflected the mood of the crowd, and not the disappointment of the AJC reporter, with a line from Clinton’s speech:

Rebuild the Dream

The difference is that the AJC plays for a mass audience and apparently does not have a clue how to connect in new ways with small fragmented communities. Hence, they wait for the punch in the face or at least the hope of a head butt. A former President — for whom people waited not just an hour, but really for years to see in person — connecting with his tribe was a thing of beauty, which the AJC with its old ways of covering the news, basically ignored. But that ignoring, built out of ignorance of social media, is done at its own peril.  

Rather than wasting everyone’s time by burying a story on page three that no one will read, why not direct that energy to engage the hundreds of people who came to this event. Let them share photos, stories, which you play up for anyone who is interested. Do the same with the other candidates, with rock concerts, with demonstrations, but don’t just write about who is on the stage; instead be the indispensable catalyst for community building, bring your tribes back home just as Bill Clinton did last night at Kennesaw State University. Give yourself a punch in the face, wake up; find yourself the 100-mile-a-gallon news operation, raise up from your wheelchair, rebuilt your anemic ways…and tomorrow you will feel good about yourself just as Bill Clinton’s crowd feels good about themselves this fine Saturday. 

6 Responses to “Bill Clinton Didn’t Punch Barack Obama in the Face”

  1. Bryan Murley Says:

    Earlier this week, the Denver post ran an article about a Mitt Romney speech at a car dealership with approximately 1,000 people in attendance, while neglecting to run an article about the Barack Obama speech at the Denver University hockey arena that featured an overflow crowd of over 10,000. That’s just wrong.

  2. Remains of the Day, 2-2-08, Journalism/Media edition | Writes Like She Talks Says:

    [...] 3. When Bill Clinton skips the outrageousness, he gets placed on page 3, and not page 1. [...]

  3. Howard Owens Says:

    Maybe sports writers should cover political events.

    Think about it: Sports writers know one thing — they are writing for an audience that not only knows the outcome of the game, but probably know as much about the game as they do. So game good game stories have to recapture the spirit of the event (to connect with readers through confirmation of their perceptions) and provide some color (such as good post-game quotes, which is information readers couldn’t get for themselves).

    Of course, sportswriters like news (conflict), too, especially if it really is NEWs. But good sports writers have to be able to tell a story people already know.

  4. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Howard:

    I agree the stories should be more exciting, but that still presupposes a passive audience. I am looking for a way in which the excitement continues among the people who attended the rally; an online tribal dance, an exchange of ideas, photos, videos. How might that happen in an easy to participate, yet meaningful, way? Or should people just savor the moment and then move on? If so, then a more exciting story might be enough.

  5. Vincent G. Thomas Says:

    I recall when Clinton got upset with Jerry Brown during a debate and looked like he was going to deck him over a remark Jerry made about Hillary’s role in a law case. Bill moved towards him him wagging his finger and getting red in the face.
    I expect Clinton is going to do get angry more than once by November.

  6. Will Riley Says:

    To get the tribal fires blazing, we first need to give our people names. Bill Clinton has a name. Everyone at the rally came to define that name with a face and a voice and body language. Fewer people came to see the man introducing Bill Clinton or the smiling woman staring at him. For most people, that man was just a messenger, an anonymous proxy for the mythological image of Bill Clinton, and that woman was just a fan who was trying to reconnect.

    So if we want to be a tribe, we first need to know each other’s names. Imagine a mediated game where we have to learn each other’s names. Let it start offline and move online. Maybe it’s a game, where we can give each other names. People bring audio recorders and digital cameras. They walk around the rally interviewing each other. Then they jump online to post pictures and name each other.

    The stranger with the giant Clinton sign would be called Big-Sign-No-Mind, and maybe the dour lady who doddled too long in the restroom would be She-Had-Too-Little-Purpose. But we would want to earn better names than these. So we would have to meet each other and ask tough questions.

    What about the woman who asked the tough question to Clinton. She might be called, She-Asks-Why-You-War. And when the man on stage gives his answer, we call him, He-Who-Half-Answers-From-The-Pulpit. Maybe the heckler is called, You-Are-Brave-But-Speak-Louder.

    We need names before we can dance around the fire. We need names to tell stories. We need to be the Tribe-That-Names-It-All.