The Clinton/Dole “debates” on “60 Minutes” highlight the trouble the medium of television has with propositional content. The New York Post notes that executive producer Don Hewitt was not happy with the first effort:
“We’re going to make sure it looks like more of a confrontation next time,” Hewitt told The Post yesterday.
No one who understands television as a medium should find anything surprising in Hewitt’s statement. Television conveys emotional content much better than propositional content because of itsstructural biases. Hewitt understands this, and so he correctly understands that the segment must “look” like a “confrontation.”
But then Hewitt steps into the twilight zone:
“It’s all about the words,” Hewitt said. “I’m one of the few guys in television who realized a lot of years ago that this is a business about words–not necessarily about pictures.”
It’s difficult to image that Hewitt believes this nonsense. Instead, I think he’s defending the segment against critics who may not call him on this absurd assertion.
The Dole/Clinton “debate” is a gamble. By presenting two such well-known and experienced politicians, CBS sets up certain expectations for quality content–expectations that cannot be met in a 2-minute segment on television. So his instinct tells him to make it “look” more like “confrontation.”
You’ll find more links to Clinton/Dole coverage on Romenesko.