As a boy I crawled under the aluminum deck of the boat I now own as my father trolled for the big bass on Woodhull Lake. While I loved all the sights, I was addicted to sound… the sound of the otter or the beaver splashing in the water, the deer drinking by the side of the deep blue, stunningly clear, Adirondack lake… the wind skittering and skipping around the lake like a gleeful child playing tag with anyone; and anything, he can touch… and the waves lapping against the boat.
I have always been intrigued by sound, which led me to study to be a studio engineer. Unfortunately all my college loans had been tapped out and I couldn’t afford to continue in the Vanderbilt-priced college: Belmont; one of only two at the time to have a degree in recording.
How things change.
Luckily I have the pleasure, as part of my own business I started twenty four years ago, to be the recording engineer. Part of what I do is work with older children: showing them just what can be done with sound, explaining how digital recording works in simple terms and taking their creative ideas and turning them into something they can be proud of.
Now what does this have to do with politics and society? Well, quite a bit. Let me give you a few examples…
Do you remember Michelle O’Bama’s comment that this was the first time she was proud to be an American? Well, actually, she said “really” proud to be an American with the emphasis on “really.” But either someone intentionally followed her around and waited for her to slip and not say “really,” or someone edited “really” out for political purposes. It would be easy to do. All one needs to do is make sure there’s enough space between the words: in any public speech there usually is, the same microphone was used and the recording didn’t sound like the recent Randi Rhodes sound bite… so terrible that anything but the most basic edits would have been painfully obvious… oh, I almost forgot: all the other processing equipment is the same or made to seem similar.
You just go in and… snip! You can either move the broken parts of the sentence together so they sound natural, or take a chance that a different type of edit will bring them close enough to sound right. Give me any politician in a room and as long as he doesn’t talk too fast I can make him say almost anything I want him to.
And we have become the sound bite culture. Rev. Wright and Barack O’Bama suffered because this. His sermons were never meant to be shredded into politically convenient sound bites: so like some audible wave version of a rabid bulldog it bit him, and O’Bama, right in the tokhes.
This isn’t, of course, just a problem for Sen. O’Bama. Sen. Clinton’s campaign has also been targeted by this rabid sound bite-itis. Geraldine Ferraro, for instance. No one seems to care, or notice, that in the same speech where she said that Sen. O’Bama wouldn’t be where he is today, historically, if he wasn’t perceived as a “Black candidate;” she also said that if not for Hillary’s sex she too wouldn’t be where she is today, historically speaking.
It’s pretty obvious what happens. The media is like moi’ with my digital recording studio and editing software: they are out to entertain their audiences; not educate them. That went bye bye with Morrow and Cronkite. The media editors select out what will cause the most controversy and edits out what will prove that the controversy is manufactured: most likely by them. The media also, of course, chooses bites that excite, anger and turn the heat up on the pot. They edit out anything that will calm the fire, or bore the audience, once they realize there’s not really much to what was there.
One might say: that’s just the way it is, except one wonders…
Despite the blogs screaming, and laughing, at Sen. McCain’s gaffes… the media seems to leave the editing equipment at home; or at least not playing it over, and over, and over, adding it to the Sunday talking head programs, and the news programs, and the papers and…
I can’t help but think that this proves just how politically one sided the mainstream media is, and it’s not that bogus “liberal bias” Cons love to blather about… while Rupert, Scaife and Moon alone control ten times the media news sources than anyone could even consider to seem to lean even slightly left.
With sound bites edited for political purposes it’s like going into a heavyweight fight with all limbs tied and a gag in your mouth if they don’t favor you.
Occasionally I’ll pick up a sound bite where it’s obvious that it’s been edited to say what the victim never intended to say. I can tell because it really takes a lot of effort to make sure the edit is seamless and clean: and a lot of attention to where cuts were recorded and how. Software, like EQ and simulated sound environments, can adjust for some of these differences… certainly not all. Most of these slobs don’t seem to care, they’re so excited by their intent to hurt those they hate the resulting sound bite edit is jarring. I do admit my work in this field has tuned my ear more than a little. I doubt Joe Citizen notices most of the time.
Then I get really scared. I know that with voice over artists good at mimicking voices and an excellent editor anyone can be destroyed politically, and socially, for what they did not say. Plus, the software and processing gets better and better… as all technologies do except that created by cell phone manufacturers. For some reason they think we want a cell phone to brush our teeth and help us go to the bathroom instead of one that gets and keeps a good signal: and doesn’t sound on a good day like you’re at the bottom of a trash can or speaking with your nose.
I write this edition of Inspection, not to ask for any bans or laws. They wouldn’t do any good and only affect the honest. The dishonest will do it anyway. I write it to ask everyone, no matter who you support, or who you hate…
…never forget that what you hear may not be exactly what was said.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over thirty years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.