Trey Gowdy: editor’s nightmare

Universal lockdown may be easing, but there’s still a dearth of new speeches being delivered. Never mind: I am enjoying exercising archeology and unearthing some interesting samples to examine.

Trey Gowdy is no stranger to this blog, having previously been featured twice – here and here. Though he has retired from US Congress he still appears on television, consulted on the ramifications of political news. Most recently this seems to concern stories surrounding “Obamagate” which is about the only topic that can elbow Covid to one side on American news broadcasts at the moment. The story seems destined to run and run.

I found two brilliant examples from a large supply of speeches Gowdy made in the House of Representatives, and after agonising over them I made my choice. They say very much the same thing, even though – if the backdrop is to be believed – they were delivered on different occasions. This makes me wonder whether the behaviour being described was a habit of that POTUS of the time. The other speech was even more dramatic, generated a standing ovation in the House, and is certainly worth watching. But the one below has one particular feature of interest for students of public speaking. (Incidentally, Gowdy does not say what the video title below suggests.)

In these times of political hyper-partisanship everyone who puts his head above the parapet will be attacked. One attack method involves being misquoted. Even when your words are recorded on video you can still be misquoted by being edited. In the past few days there was an example of an American news anchorman accusing the US Attorney General of not saying something he should have said, when the footage of him actually saying it had been removed from the report. It was clumsy and quickly exposed, but it demonstrates the danger.

Cutting out a portion of a recording is the quickest and easiest way of bending, altering, or even reversing the meaning of what was actually said. But there are evasive precautions that a speaker can adopt to make that more difficult to achieve; and, whether by accident or design, Gowdy habitually uses one of the easiest.

Once the editor has decided what he wants to remove, his principal difficulty is in finding suitable edit points at which he can cut out and then back in again without it being noticeable. (In passing, there are electronic devices that will spot editing, however well disguised, but here we are concerned just with what humans can hear.) By far the easiest edit points are in the tiny pauses between sentences, and removing whole sentences is the easiest way to adjust meaning without appearing to impede the speech flow. Those tiny inter-sentence pauses are therefore going to be the editor’s prime targets.

All the speaker has to do is not pause between sentences. If during a sensitive part of a speech you stick your pauses in shortly before the last couple of words of sentences, and then run straight through into the beginning of the next, you are giving a potential editor a hell of a headache.

If you listen carefully you will find Gowdy doing exactly that.

Listening carefully is worth it anyway, because this is one hell of a good speech.

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