Laugh-Track Republicans Need Debate Audience To Tell Them What To Think

The Republican Party has made a pariah of Hollywood, which they regard as a bastion of liberal propagandists bent on manipulating public opinion. But after the reaction to last night’s debate in Tampa, Florida, it is apparent that it is the GOP that is wedded to Tinseltown’s tactics.

Commonly known as “laugh-tracks,” the procedure used to “sweeten” the audio of television productions has conditioned audiences to rely on the cues they receive from other audience members. These emotional prompts serve to make certain the audience gets the intended message. And now the long-term effect of this technique has resulted in Republican debate audiences becoming dependent on such cues to inform them of what their own own reactions ought to be to candidates’ remarks. Absent these signals they become lost and don’t know what they are supposed to think. And this morning they are very upset about that.

As evidence of this, note some of the Twitter responses from Republican partisans to NBC’s request that the audience in Tampa refrain from interrupting the candidates with demonstrations of approval or disapproval:

Rich Lowry: if the SC debates had been like this (dull, no audience reaction), gingrich wouldnt have the SC primary

Adam Perine: wow the audience is really missing in this debate… Hurts Newt… probably intentional by NBC #FIDebate

S. E. Cupp: Wow, way to suck the air out of the room, NBC. #NoApplauseIsNoFun

Gateway Pundit: Taking the crowd out of the debate hurts Newt. Brilliant move NBC. Look for this technique in the fall. #FLDebate

Without question, most of the GOP debates thus far have allowed a raucous environment that encouraged the candidates to pander to the crowd, as opposed to articulating more substantive positions. As a result there were some notorious moments that are remembered more for their insight into the character of the GOP audience than the character of the candidates. For instance:

  • The audience gleefully cheered the mention of Rick Perry’s record-breaking number of executions.
  • The audience booed an American soldier on duty in Iraq when he asked a question about gays in the military.
  • The audience applauded when Ron Paul answered that he was content to let an ailing man die because he had no health insurance.
  • The audience went wild when Newt Gingrich evaded a question about his ex-wife’s allegations of adultery and open marriage, and instead attacked the moderator for asking the question.

Newt Gingrich has been the most aggressively solicitous candidate in the GOP field. He is adept at stirring up an audience, and he feeds off of the reactions he incites. Consequently, he is the most concerned about any effort to mute audience response. On Fox & Friends this morning, Gingrich was asked about this by host Gretchen Carlson:

Carlson: What was your reaction to last night’s debate? The audience was taken out of it and up until this point, the audience has been your fan.

Gingrich: I wish in retrospect I’d protested because Brian Williams took them out of it. I think it’s wrong. And I think he took them out of it because the media’s terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate. And we’re gonna serve notice on future debates, we’re not going to allow that to happen. That’s wrong.

The fact that Gingrich sees the Republican primary debates as a contest between the candidates and the media, rather than the candidates themselves, is telling. The media is an easy target as it has an approval rating with the American people that is almost as low as the congress from which Gingrich emerged. No wonder he would rather debate the media than his GOP opponents. Gingrich is, in effect, admitting that he wants to use the debate audience as a weapon to advance his candidacy.

It will be interesting to see if Gingrich is successful in getting the debate sponsors to comply with his self-serving demand. Needless to say, it would be utterly irresponsible for the press to buckle under to such bullying tactics. There may be reasons, pro and con, for permitting the audience to be openly demonstrative, but it should always be a decision based on journalistic principles, not candidate preferences.

What’s more, the press should not be taking sides in the debate over whether debate audiences should be heard. But, of course, Fox News has already done just that. They have already published at least two stories that slant in favor of Gingrich’s position.

Fox Nation - NBC Debate

As an aside, audience response is also a factor during State of the Union addresses. One of the most annoying parts of these affairs is the constant interruptions and fidgeting by members of congress that can’t stay in their seats for more than two minutes. I wish that Brian Williams could drop by and tell them to sit still and listen respectfully until the speech tonight is completed.

[Update] Mitt Romney appeared on Fox & Friends Wednesday morning and affirmed my point about the media being an easy target and Gingrich’s exploitation of that fact:

“It’s very easy to talk down a moderator. The moderator asks a question and then has to sit by and take whatever you send to them. And Speaker Gingrich has been wonderful at attacking the moderators and attacking the media. That’s always a very favorite response for the home crowd. But it’s very different to have candidates going against candidates, and that’s something I’ll be doing going against President Obama if I get the chance to be our nominee.”


9 thoughts on “Laugh-Track Republicans Need Debate Audience To Tell Them What To Think

  1. So if I’m a conservative I’m apparently NOT wondering why the Liberal NBC was motivated to help Romney by disallowing audience reaction, a huge factor in Gingrich’s SC win. I’m NOT confused by the common knowledge that the Liberal media wants Gingrich to emerge the victor, the easier for Obama ultimately to win against in Nov. In which case, hoots and applause – which would have favored the desired candidate – propelling Gingrich to victory in Florida, were actually counterproductive to the Liberal NBC’s interests, and yet it happened anyway.

    If I’m a conservative I’m NOT thinking why would NBC act in a way which makes no sense? It’s one of the many reasons I’m not a conservative.

    • You’re giving conservatives too much credit – for thinking.

  2. For crying out loud. Do you people ever stop whining over such minutiae? Give it a rest and grow up.

    • Hah! Since you’re too dense to notice, let me point out to you that this article is merely reporting on the whining that Republicans are doing. On that basis I agree with you. They should give it a rest and grow up.

      • I think it’s cruel to point out to these people the errors and ignorance that they are so obviously and carefully blind to.

        Remember in the movie “Young Frankenstein” when Gene Wilder says to Marty Feldman “You know I’m a rather brilliant surgeon and I might be able to help you with that hump”, and Igor (Feldman) replies “What hump?”

        • They’re being enormously hypocritical (more enormously than usual) by now saying the the president is being divisive. REALLY?!? That’s been their main election strategy since the 60’s!!!! Also, who would be mad about dividing the 1% from the 99%? Do they honestly think that’s a good strategy?

          • I was just thinking about that “divisive” charge and was wondering the same thing you are. How can it be considered divisive if 99% agree? A poll out this morning showed that 92% of Americans who watched the State of the Union speech approved of Obama’s positions.

    • Dave, if someone tells you it’s raining do you accuse them of holding a hose over your head?

  3. i say let GOP debate audiences boo the golden rule and cheer for executions. the more that the rest of America sees of this the less they will want one of them in power.

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