We asked Adjunct Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Kenn Venit, to analyze President Bush’s historic March 17 speech. Prof. Venit is a broadcast news consultant, television talent coach, and media trainer. He has a master’s degree in communications.
In terms of the text itself, President Bush and his White House staff writers created a brief speech consisting primarily of declarative sentences, a relatively simple vocabulary, and an almost matter-of-fact recitation of recent history. It was probably easy to translate accurately into other languages, and was also likely to be easy for English-as-a-second language people to understand. The President dramatically focused on predictions of life after Saddam Hussein is removed from power, again in what could be considered matter-of-fact style.
For those who only listened to the President’s speech via radio or Internet, his voice had proper inflection, appropriately solemn emotional tones, and a consistent measured rate of delivery. The combination of the text and his easy-to-follow audio-only presentation was very powerful.
The President’s on-camera delivery suffered somewhat from what appeared to be his staring at the camera, with no gestures, and with no audience. He was “locked” onto the prompter, apparently reading with what seemed to be some strain, as indicated by his furrowed forehead. He was more comfortable to watch in his recent news conference and his State of the Union address.
(It is interesting to recall that over four decades ago, in the Richard Nixon – John Kennedy presidential debates, it was observed that Nixon tended to win the debates in the minds of those who listened to them on the radio, while those who watched them on tv tended to feel Kennedy was the victor.)
Whether the speech was particularly persuasive probably depends on one’s point of view. Those who opposed what the President espoused in regard to Iraq, and those who favored it, likely remained steadfast in their beliefs. There were no revelations that might have changed one’s opinion, just a recapitulation of where things stood from the President’s perspective.
Hidden power in the speech may have been due, in part, to the cool, calm, calculated demeanor of a world leader who was sending and re-affirming extremely clear messages to the American people, the people of Iraq, and the rest of the world. There was no doubt what was meant when the President declared, “All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing.” There was nothing veiled, or diplomatic, when he spoke directly to the Iraqis and said, “The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.”
Still another way the President definitively expressed the start of the countdown to war was his statement, “The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.” His final version of saying diplomacy is over and action is imminent came when he concluded, “Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent, and tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.” Carefully crafted repetition assured that in crystal-clear fashion, there was no way anyone could have misread the President’s intentions. This was not a cheerleading speech -it was deadly serious business from start to finish.