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Friday, October 19, 2012

Subliminal messages at the forum 

Let’s look  past specific propaganda techniques today and at subtle, even subliminal ways to change opinions. Our lab will be the Candidates’ Forum Thursday night.

This forum was well-run, ending on time and exerting strict control on speakers’ talk time. 

So the initial (unstated) message at the Forum was “solid organization.”


Loaded questions 

At least five of the 14 questions asked the candidates were “loaded questions.” (A loaded question is one that contains a controversial or unjustified assumption. For example, the New Zealand corporal punishment referendum, 2009, asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offense in New Zealand?")

Loaded questions, deliberate or not, should be expected in a debate organized by supporters of one side. 

Monahan raised a good defense to the loaded question technique, questioning the assumption as a “clarification” of the question. Questioning the assumption is a standard defense. Doing so as a "clarification" didn't use up his one minute.

Free rein to lie

Further, the candidates faced no rebuttal, so the second speaker could state outright lies without fear of being caught. The Anti’s (candidates opposed to the 3M's and the Charter and a lot of other things)  took advantage of this technique; the 3M’s (Mensinger, Monahan, McCarthy)  tended to answer the questions as honestly as possible, even when they spoke second. The slogans of the Anti's carried a message of clarity; the "talking for one minute" of the 3M's contrasted as "not quite clear" even though their spoken messages were often more pertinent.

Stacked deck? Of course!

So, was the deck stacked against the 3 M’s? Of course it was, and blatantly.

However, in my opinion the Three M’s caused much of their own anguish by ignoring the “unstated messages” from them, from their opponents, and from the event organizers.

Shot self in foot, reloading

First, there was no early arrival and setting up tables before the others’ supporters arrived, as in previous Forums and debates. Twenty-seven visitors were milling about and three Anti’s tables were manned (officially or not) before the first Pro’s signage showed. And it looked like one man was doing all the preparation for all three candidates. The Anti’s had rafts of people and handouts and glad handing early on.

Message: The Anti’s are friendly and are here to help you understand the issues. The 3M's are here with their signs. The message being given was gradually turned around during the evening.

Toastmasters' lesson

During the “debate” the three Anti’s shuffled papers to find their answers when a question was read, while the 3M’s primarily wrote notes. So, were the questions available beforehand to all candidates? If so, then the 3M candidates missed by not preparing answers with a beginning-middle-end format.

However, failure to get the message across because their presentation wasn't organized for impact is self-mutilation rather than destruction by the opponents. We can call this the Toastmasters’ lesson.

Message: 3M's are talking about it; Anti’s are presenting clear messages. 

(Which they weren't  but their confidence and organized presentations gave that impression. Many of their messages were the same messages that are filling our mailboxes right now, often given in a snappy “1-2-3” format.)

It's not fair

It’s not fair if the Anti’s got the questions in advance and the 3M's didn’t? Politics is dirty and life isn't fair. With most of the leadership of the HOA listed as contributors and sponsors and endorsers for the three Anti’s campaigns, who would expect fairness? This forum wasn't sponsored by a scrupulously-non-partisan group like the first forum was.

Appearances send a message

Five indistinguishable and one centered and perky and colorful candidate were seen on the stage. The perky one attracted camera lenses. The longer Ms. Genis was in view, the more familiar she became.

She’s running a “gray man” campaign – avoid controversy and slide in on name recognition. Yet nothing was said or done to make her state a position.

Message: “Sandy was right there and she stood up for women, and she sure looked sharp. Oh, and the guys had business suits or something.”

Subverted by bias and self-inflicted injury

So, the 3M's message was subverted by (very predictable) bias in the questions and how they were assigned, and by a disadvantage in timely manning of the display area, and in a minor way by “blah” about their dress and answers. This was all preventable.

Gaffe by trusting soul

The biggest gaffe of the event was Mensinger’s. He bobbled a question about his own ordinance. Not enough time to even touch the issues? Yup. He asked for a favor of extra time! The moderator could be expected to not want him to win and to not care if he thought she was fair, so why ask? She turned him down, transmitting a “dis” message.

He could have just used an elevator speech, which is a short summary used to quickly summarize a value proposition. (Einstein is reported to have answered a request to discuss nuclear fission “in one minute” with, “There’s some metal and we squeeze it real tight, and it makes a big bang as the metal turns into energy.”  That’s apocryphal (probably not an actual quote) but it’s a good example.)

Message: doesn’t need stating.

Hidden but maybe remembered

So a lot of the information we've looked at today was not directly stated, as fact or as propaganda. It was subliminal, and thus hard to identify, and even harder to refute. Some messages were deliberate, like those developed by the selection and wording of the questions; some was inadvertent, like the “too little, too late” manning of the candidates’ tables.

Subliminal messages sometimes resonate long after the factual. These messages are more subtle than the fear-mongering that fills our mailboxes, but just as clear.

Probably a trench, not a cliff

Earlier Forums and debates and neighborhood visiting have developed a positive image for the 3M’s, which is much like a generalized subliminal message. This may somewhat negate the negative messages from this last Forum. We'll see how effective all of the “message manipulation,” including propaganda, has been in a couple of weeks.

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