Sometimes it is what you say. And how you say it.
Every now and then we catch the British Parliament’s “Question Time” on C-Span. It’s that time when the Prime Minister goes before the Lords and the MPs and answers policy questions, often defending positions he and his government have taken. Sure, it’s political.
There are some things that are impressive about these events. Although the questions are often pointed and highly partisan, they are asked with respect for the system. The responses often are greeted with dignified derision that seems completelly foreign to those of us who watch political debate here in the colonies.
Another thing that is interesting to watch is the way the Prime Minister responds. We have never seen a PM flustered. We have never seen one stammer and stumble and let an answer just dribble away.
Jay Nixon would never make it in Question Time. He’s great at reading speeches and he has a really good speech writer. But off the cuff? Let’s just say it’s an adventure for those of us who deal in soundbites to get a clean 20 or 30 seconds that constitutes a complete answer.
Of course, that can be to his advantage when he doesn’t want to answer a direct question with a direct answer. It can be to his disadvantage when somebody tries to figure out exactly what he says. Unscripted moments are not his strong suit, and that’s not good for someone who (the Capitol rumor mill is whispering) might have national aspirations when his time as governor ends.
We have run across highly-intelligent people, some of whom are accomplished politicians, as Governor Nixon is, who have minds that race far ahead of their vocal cords, where ideas collide before words form, resulting in garbled expressions.
We got a phone call Friday (the 26th) from Nixon spokesman Scott Holste. We’ve worked with Scott for many years and we’ve had a good relationship. So when Scott questioned one of our stories, we paid attention. We had reported on the air and on our website that House Speaker Tim Jones said Nixon was not going to comply with a subpoena issued in a southeast Missouri lawsuit challenging the Revenue Department’s data accumulation. “That’s not true,” Scott told us. Scott said Nixon told reporters in St. Charles that he was letting “the lawyers” handle the issue. Scott had recorded the Q&A. I asked him to email it to us. He did.
Scott also called our friend Jim Butler at KMOX to question the story posted on the KMOX website. Some thing. Jim called us. We discussed it. He said KMOX was standing by its story.
Understand that people like the Missourinet and KMOX don’t go around misquoting people. Recorders are a great protective tools.
So we listened to the recording. John had listened to a recording in which one of his reporters, Brett Blume, asked Nixon if he was going to appear at the May 3rd hearing the subpoena was for. A lot of crowd noise makes it difficult to pick up every hem and haw and uh and eh in the Governor’s response. The Missourinet and KMOX have some electronic editing tools that help us clean up audio so it’s easier to understand—–not as sophisticated as some of the stuff we see on the cop shows on the teevee or in spy movies, but it’s adequate.
John and the folks at KMOX determined Nixon’s answer was “No. I, I, I’ve, people, by golly, guys, I’ve been in public service for 26 years. I’ve been, uh, huh, eh, I’ll leave that to the lawyers to talk about.” John is sure the governor said “no” at the start. Here’s the segment of the interview from Scott Holste’s recording:
We did some noise reduction work and then tried to amplify a little “bump” after Brett’s question before Nixon started stumbling around with “I, I,…” Was that the “no?” Here’s the segment after our filtering and our amplification.
So what do you think? It’s not unusual for someone in his position to say “no…” at the start of an answer before going on with a more complete and sometimes contradictory answer. It’s an almost automatic response. Sometimes, though, the first response is the real response.
We don’t know after listening to this recording several times if the governor said “no.” His final answer to the question, though, was that he’s letting the lawyers handle the situation. That’s not an unusual answer., We’ve covered a lot of political figures who’ve gotten into some difficulty and sooner or later they tell us they’re letting their lawyer handle things.
The rest of the answer to the question, however, was vintage Nixon. Figuring out what he meant, let along what he said, is about as much an exercise in trying to figure out if he said “no.” At the end of the ramble, the final answer was that he was letting the lawyers take care of things.
And we’ll leave it there, I guess.