"Political Literacy: Sifting Thru the Spin"
In The Mix
?, 2000
Hosted by Liz Clay and Rubin Polizzi


[This transcript is little confusing since it features video clips, etc. The part with Jon was filmed at the 2000 Republican National Convention.]


This In The Mix special is made possible by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Liz (In the Mix host): Liz Clay from In the Mix.

WWF Woman: What's your name?

Rubin (In the Mix host): Rubin Polizzi.

WWF Woman: Nice meeting you!

Rubin: From In the Mix, Yes, I'm a very big fan.

WWF Woman: Nice to meet you Rubin.

Liz: Were from In the Mix, it's a show on PBS talking about youth and politics.

Newt Gingrich: Yes

Rubin: We would just like to ask you a couple quick questions if you have the time.

Liz: How can young people find out the difference between the truth and spin in politics.

Rubin: Hey, Can I ask you a couple of questions for PBS?

Liz: In The Mix!

Rubin: In The Mix for teens

Ralph Nader: HUH!

Rubin: Find out the real deal.

Liz: A lot of young people don't feel that they can find out the truth.

Rubin: If they don't hear the voices of young people, they are just going to forget about us.

Rubin: Right over there, politicians giving speeches all about George W. Bush

Crowd: Go Bush Go, Go Bush Go

Liz: The journalists, the reporters, the pundits

Rubin: We all have to watch and learn.

Liz: Because if we don't participate, no one is going to make us


Teen: As a teenager nowadays, when we hear politic, we don't really see the value of why putting a good politician in office means to us.

Teen: Since you're a kid, sometimes you don't really pay attention to politics and things like that.

Teen: Rarely do you ever see a politician get down to the level of the . . . of the teenagers, to see where we are coming from.

Teen: They're not talking to us because they probably think we don't care either, so why would they talk to us.

Teen: Most people aren't involved, they don't really care ya know! You ask most people, "Are you voting?" Some people are like "No, what does it matter, why does my vote matter?"

Rubin: Why did you guys get involved within Politics?

Boy: Umm wait, can I ask you a question first?

Rubin: Yea, sure!

Boy: Do you vote?

Amanda: I mean if nobody votes then like, I mean that's the problem like it's gonna be in the hands of like not us.

Sen. Santorum (R): I always say young people have the most to gain and lose in any election, cause they have to live with the consequences longer than anybody else.

Harold Ford (D): The challenge we have as public policy makers is to show Americans whatever their age group that you have something at stake here.

Steel: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, The environment.

Teen: Though some of the issues may be boring, if we don't, if we don't know what is going on, it's still going to be affecting us somehow, whether we know it or not.

Steel: If young people don't get involved, our voice isn't going to be heard. We are the people who are going to be on the planet for the next fifty years.

Sen. Santorum (R): And the sad part is that they end up voting the least. And yet are impacted the most.

Michael Delorenzo: There's other people making decisions about your life everyday.

Rebecca Goulette: I mean the future of our country is in our hands.

LLCoolJ: You have to let your voice be heard.

Harold Ford (D): I hope people get involved and go to the polls and vote

Sheryl Crow: Because you have a say about your future and it starts there, it doesn't start by sitting around.

Rock: You have to go out there and exercise your right.

Harold Ford (D): There's only one day in America where we are actually all equal, and it's election day, our votes all count the same.

Rock: Go out there and smack down your vote, register to vote, very very important.

Boy: Let's say you think that your vote does not count, but then you realize what if it does?


PSA (clip of two fighters in a ring): "Are your candidates more concerned with attacking the issues, or attacking each other?"

Chris Malone: All right, what did you just see?

Crowd of kids: A fight!

Chris Malone: A fight, yeah, boxing, right? The metaphor is that politics is, is like a sporting event. This scenario forces you voters, you citizenry, to just be passive and watch. That's not politics, politics isn't about just the voters, just watching and then going to pull the lever every four years or every two years. It's about getting involved.

Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistol): Indolence, apathy, laziness, idiocy. None of these things are tolerable. Do not make yourself meaningless. When you do that, you will be rolled over, you will be the cannon fodder of the future.

Teen: Most voters depend on the television, the radio, and the newspaper to tell them who to vote for. Rarely do you find voters who are, who want to go out there and do the research, find the information, and educate themselves by themselves to make the right choice for them and that's the problem with the game. It's the spectators that have lost what the meaning of politics is, they no longer are being educated voters, but just simply voters.

Ad: Bill Bradley: "Wouldn't it be better if we had more than sound bites and photo ops when we were choosing a candidate"

Jon Stewart: Politicians, at this point in American history, are no different than advertizers.

Chris Malone: The thing about these campaign ads is that they, they cost a lot of money. If you name your thirty minute sitcom, I can tell you probably that it cost about a half a million dollars for thirty seconds of TV ad. Something is going on in that ad which might affect you, and that is what we are going to try and pull out. We're going to read television, look at the verbal cues, look at the content and substance of what these ads say. We want to be skeptical but not cynical.

Chris Malone: When's the last time you all saw a campaign ad?

Crowd: This Morning.

Gore Ad: "I'm going to fight for the values and principals that I think are important in this country."

Ad: "George W. Bush, a fresh start for education"

Teen: They don't explain anything, they give you one statement.

Ad: Gore: "I would fight for average working families"

Teen: You draw your conclusions on that statement.

Teen: You always see the candidates surrounded by beautiful children, all nicely neat and they are always kissing them but you know what, that always sets something off in my mind.

Teen: You don't really see the issues of the person, you see why their opponent does this bad and this bad and this bad.

Ad: "Senator McCain five times he voted to use your taxes to pay for political campaigns. That's not real reform"

Teen: I think this kind of political lingo and double talk, all this is what's being fed to the American voters.

Chris Malone: Maybe that's one of the reasons why young people such as yourself turn off, and then don't vote when you become of voting age. And by the way, we're not here to criticize George Bush or Al Gore. What we're trying to do is analyze the substance of the ads. Ya'll ready.

Ad: "It's disappointing. Friday, John McCain promised to stop running a negative campaign. Then Sunday, he attacked Gov. Bush with false charges on campaign finance. Gov. Bush supports comprehensive reform that would outlaw foreign, corporate, and union money to political parties. Senator McCain, five times he voted to use your taxes to pay for political campaigns. That's not real reform."

Chris: First of all, what did you notice about the narration? Go ahead Jennifer.

Jennifer: They would use, a feminine voice to soften the negative references that they are making to the other candidate and then they would use a strong, ya know, male voice to say the good things about Bush.

Chris: Anybody know what apposition is? Apposition literally means when two things are right next to one another. There is a verbal apposition that is going on here with the narration OK. Watch again and watch the visual apposition.

Ad: "Governor Bush supports comprehensive reform that would outlaw foreign, corporate, and union money to political parties. Senaotr McCain, five times he voted to use your taxes to pay for political campaigns."

Chris: OK, Yes Nneka, go ahead

Nieka: It was really impersonal when they refer to McCain cause they show the building instead of the actual person.

Chris: Do you see John McCain's face at all?

Crowd: NO

Chris: They show Congress, this is John McCain. Why Congress? Yes, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Don't even show his face, don't even show that he is human, show ya know, like concrete because it's a colder look. It's a much more impersonal look and ya know, it's much farther away from the people.

Chris: Right, now, watch George Bush.

Ad: "Taxes to political campaigns, that's not real reform. Governor Bush will devote the surplus to priorities, a strong military, education, social security, and tax cuts."

Chris: What's the view you get of George Bush?

Carmelita: That he's actually moving

Chris: Exactly.

Carmelita: It shows that he's trying to do something. You show the movement that he's doing. When you see a building, what's a building doing but standing in place.

Chris (over Carmelita) : Right, right.

Carmelita: He's actually looking like he's trying to work with something.

Chris: Right, he's giving a speech, he's talking to voters, he's in a parade, and he's moving, he's jiggy with it, yeah whatever that means.

Crowd: Laughs

Chris: And this visual apposition, this idea of just a building that doesn't go anywhere and doesn't do anything maybe, with this dynamic person walking down the street and that's all intentional. But people don't realize that that's going on in a 60-second ad. It happens subconsciously.

Jennifer: It's very subtle but it its not so subtle because if you look for it, you see that what they're trying to do.

Announcer: Tonight, on the Daily Show!

Rubin: Jon, first of all, you call yourself the number one fake news show in America.

Jon Stewart: I've just blown our fake coverage.

Audience: (Laughter)

Jon Stewart: We are definitely a fake news show.

Rubin: Problem with politics is that, (it's fake and )you don't know what's real and what's not. You know, it's called spin.

Larry King: Spinning is part of the process.

Mary Matalin: Spin, as from the perspective of somebody who is an expert at it, is nothing more than presenting your position and your candidate in the most favorable light.

Larry King: One of the emphasis on politics is to spin because their concept is to make me look good. To make my policy look good.

Amanda (Children's Express Reporter): I read so much stuff that was contradictory, I wanted to see if maybe I could find out for myself, by like talking to people.

Dennis Hastert: I mean it's just like going out and buying a bicycle or a skateboard or a new car. Ya know, you want to see the real facts and how things work and I think it's the same way in politics, it's good common sense, don't be fooled.

Bill Schneider (CNN): Newspapers are supposed to present the news and they usually label analysis as analysis, and commentary that is opinion writing on the editorial pages and the op-ed pages, that's the usual clue immediately what's going on . When it's on television always look for the affiliation of the person. Is it someone who does work for Democrats or Republicans. Always look to find out who that person works for so you'll know what kind of spin he likely to be giving you.


Chris: Were going to watch the CBS evening news.

Dan Rather: "A slap in the face today for campaign finance reformers."

Chris: Watch how long the candidates themselves speak.

News Clip: Gore: "I will take the first step by requesting the Democratic National Committee not to run any issue ads paid for by soft money."

(Voice: Bush never agreed.)

Chris: OK.

Crowd: 9,10 seconds. 9, 9 to 10 seconds, OK, now here comes George Bush.

News Clip: Bush: "Is Al Gore breaking the pledge…, doesn't surprise me. He's a man who says one thing and does another."

Chris: How long?

Crowd: 7 seconds

Girl: You see these things out of context , but you don't know everything that was said. So you see like one attack after another, we don't know the whole story.

Chris: That is classic media coverage of a campaign. What happens is that the candidate himself or herself on the nightly news, gets about 7 seconds to say something. That's not a lot of time.

Sen. Santorum (R): They can spin whatever you say, no matter how smart you are or how articulate, or how well you put it together and make you look bad or good depending on what 3 seconds they clip.

Chris: That's one of the reasons why candidates might begin to talk more in sound bites because they know when they get on the nightly news they get 7 seconds to say what they want.

John Hockenberry (MSNBC): What were seeing now is that more and more of the White House and Congress are being run as public relations agencies, that they're in many ways spinning information to help their candidacies. The decisions of the White House have to do with how things are going to look on TV.

Chris: The way you look and the way you appear on TV certainly matters to the electorat and we'e gonna see that in a second. OK, Al Gore, here we go.

Ad: "The 1993 floods devastated Iowa, and Al gore came through for us as he has done so many times when I've called……"

Chris: So what is Al Gore wearing? Komiko.

Komiko: He's got on his jeans and his open T-shirt, like I'm ready to get down and help those people from Iowa, helping, ya know, stop this flood cause I'm a concerned citizen, not only in, ya know, not only in Washington D.C. but also in Iowa .

Chris: Uh huh, yea he's down with the people. Alright here we go.

Ad: "I'm Tom Harkin. I'm here to say that Al Gore stood up for Iowa. And in the caucuses on Monday January 24th, it's time for us to stand up for Al Gore."

Chris: Who is narrating this ad?

Nieka: Tom Harkin

Chris: Tom Harkin

Chris: So he's a senator for what state?

Chris and Crowd: Iowa

Chris: So why should we care about who's narrating this ad?

Girl: He's someone people trust, he was elected to do a job, so he trusts Al Gore which makes us trust him also.

Chris: OK

Girl: It was more personal. It was someone who actually knew Al Gore and was saying something about him.

Chris: And if you are an Iowa Democrat, which this is geared towards, Iowa Democrats, and you don't know anything about Al Gore or Bill Bradley, it's a form of name recognition. Hey, if my senator is endorsing this person then it must be good, right.


Liz Clay: Here we are at the Republican National Convention. It may not look very glamorous from here because as you can see we're standing in a trailer park, but it's not just any trailer park. This is where thousands of journalists come together and cover the convention that's inside. We're gonna take you in there and speak to politicians, members of the media, and help you figure out how to separate the rhetoric from the reality.

Jon Stewart: Let us go down to our correspondents on the floor of the First Union Center, Stephen Colbert. Just what does the GOP hope to accomplish at the convention?

Dick Cheney (Vice-President Candidate): "We will store decency and integrity"

Elizabeth Dole: "To ensure freedom of survival."

John McCain: "Transform history."

George Bush: "Together, we will renew America's purpose."

Jon Stewart: What exactly does that mean?

Stephen Colbert (The Daily Show): Renewing /America's purpose/ together. It really is a three-pronged process. As you can see, the first prong which is, interestingly enough, last. The together part, they've got down, they're here, they're together. The next two parts are a little trickier. First, they need to figure out what America's purpose is. Then, they have the added challenge of renewing it.

Jon Stewart: Senator, and I don't want to give the wrong impression, this is my first convention, but it's awful boring.

Bob Dole (R): Yeah, well.

(Band playing)

Schneider: A convention is an infomercial, but they're not selling stain remover or hair treatments. They're selling a presidential candidate.

Liz: Do you think that young people are perhaps feeling that the system is not for them?

Carlson: Younger people may not feel that they need government. Politics has to come out and grab them in some way. And conventions are one way.

Brian: I was interested in watching the conventions because I kind of wanted to see what the different strategies were… the campaign strategies. I felt like it would be important for my knowledge of who I wanted to vote for if I could see where both were coming from.

Carlson (TIME): If only it was more like Survivor where you know, it was reality-based TV, they'd be more likely to tune in.

Jon Stewart: It seems like no surprises are going to occur. We sort of know everything is mapped out. What is it we're looking to learn from this?

Bob Dole: Uh… let's see.

Carlson: The parties are squandering the opportunity to bring young people in by scripting it so much that it has nothing to do with real life.

Brian: I think it's also important to look past the spectacle of it all and the show and everything like that. Look at the candidates for who they are… at least try to. I think that's very important. You want to get past the whole show aspect, who's talking for who and what actors are endorsing who, and look at the people themselves. I think that's very important.

Jon Stewart: People believed Kennedy when he said he said he believed in public service, when he said…

John F. Kennedy Clip: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Jon Stewart: Until somebody comes along that people believe, and that feel like isn't just scripting things for four days, and seventy million dollars, and never speaking in reality. Just always speaking in prepared, canned lines. How can anybody watch that, and think that that's inspiring?


Chris: Let's watch another Al Gore ad.

Ad: Gore: "The hallmark of the Gore Presidency would be this: You wold know that you would have a President of the United States who is willing to fight for the average working person in America. Not the wealthy, not the privileged, not the special-interest, not the powerful. I'm gonna fight for the values and principles that I think are important in this country."

Girl: It's all just selling an image. I think you have to look past the advertisement.

Girl: Something about this made me think of Superman. Like between the music and, uh-oh, there's Al Gore on a farm, and there he is adopting a child, and ..

Chris: Thayer.. you wanted to say something?

Girl: It was extremely enthusiastic. Like the music in the background was really, it was really motivational and it was like get up and do something.

Chris: Who's narrating this ad?

Boy: Al Gore. Himself.

Chris: What kind of effect does this have?

Girl: It gives it a more personal effect. All the other ones had other people talking for them.

Girl: There's not one person saying, "Well, I can do this", another person saying "Well, I can do this plus this times infinity".

Girl: I don't think the advertisements help you understand the candidates as much as they just help introduce you to the candidates. I think what you have to do is look into this if it matters to you.


Bill Schneider: We're covering the convention as news event. Because we think our obligation is to give the voters the information they need to make a wise choice. The parties are in the business of selling their candidates. We're like Consumer Reports. We're in the business of trying to tell the voter, "Well, here's something you didn't know that the party didn't say and here's a way to put what you just heard in perspective. You gotta find sources you trust that will give you reliable information. And it's like we're providing a consumer guide in politics.

Peter Jennings (News Clip): "There's a lot of enthusiam"

Liz: This is how the convention is filtered to you at home.

Dan Rather (News Clip): "America will choose a new president"

Reporter: "Very good night for the G.O.P."

Reporter: "What a difference four years makes."

Liz: This is how you're understand it when you're sitting in your living room. The journalists and reporters explain to you what's going on.

Girl: The media likes to play it up and make it more dramatic than I'm sure it really is.

Dan Rather: "A flagrant act of hyperbole."

Girl: It seems like the media feeds into it.


Trout: "I was the first person ever to bring a camera into a convention hall. It was all radio up til then."

Gavel Holder (RNC '48): "The Convention will now come to order"

Trout: The Internet is an even bigger jump than television.

Bohrman: There's a connection here that is just not possible on regular television.

Teen: You can post their questions on the chat room and then the moderators and the participants of the radio show or the net show, as it should be called, can answer those questions directly.

Liz: Does this blow your mind? Is this like the craziest experience you've ever had?

Teen: It's so huge!!

Teen: Yeah, it's pretty big!

Teen: So, the chat rooms, you can express whatever you think, if you're really mad about something, you can be say, "Hey, I'm really mad about this." It's a great way to get young people to think about politics and to communicate freely about politics.

Bohrman: There's something new happening here, the politicians sense it.

Gov. Whitman (R): The best place to go for instantaneous information is the web.

Newt Gingrich (R): I think that the Internet gives young people a chance to learn more.

Cindy McCain (R): Every candidate's on the Internet now.

Elizabeth Dole: You can get a lot of good information on the Internet.

Ralph Nader: Look at some of the good Internet sites.

Gov. Ridge (R): I think it's gonna change the face of 21st century politics.

Rudy Giuliani: Even I learned the Internet.

Website Producer: On the web, you have the ability to make the coverage whatever you want it to be, you know. So many times, if you watch the networks, you have to take what they give you. Now, if you go the internet, go to any of the websites for the candidates themselves or journalism websites, you'll find full speeches in streaming video, you'll find texts and transcripts.

It's allowing for a whole new type of reporting in journalism. Taking video, sound, and stream all onto the internet.

So you get all you could possibly know about the political process on the internet, and then you have to do the sifting.

Rubin: We're at the Philadelphia Museum of Art running up the very steps that Rocky Balboa ran up in order to train for his fight in the boxing ring. Just like Rocky, politicians work hard in order to get your vote. But if you make a well-informed decision, we will be the winners.

Liz: The question is… where can we find accurate information to make these choices? As we have seen, the internet can really help. Just type in keywords, "politics,"" vote," "political ads," "a candidiate's name," or an issue you're interested in. You can also check out our own website, inthemix.org, or the PBS Democracy Project.

Lisa: Here's a section about how to analyze a poll.

David: The month before the election, all these polls come out on who's leading the race, and who might have won the last debate. I wonder where they get this information from. They probably have a large influence.

Lisa: I think that people who don't really know what their stand is on who they're going to vote for could be swayed in the polls. I've never been polled. Have you?

David: No, I wonder how they reach these people to be polled, or where they get their information from.

Lisa: Here they've got some answers like who conducted the poll. How the respondents were chosen. What is the size ad error of the poll?

David: Here it tells you how to find out what other polls were done on the topic, and if they said the same thing.

Lisa: They have a section about dissecting an ad, or interpreting a debate, evaluate a platform, assess a website. What about…What about… I think they have a cyber debate. Go Back. You can write in questions, and they'll contact the candidiates and have them answer the questions online.

Lisa: Ohh, really!

David: Some of the questions have been about internet piracy, drug use, and school violence.

Lisa: I want to ask them a question about how they feel on scholarship money, just because it's such a big expense, and I feel like it's a really big issue.

Tom Brokaw: You have to do your own independent research, and measure one against the other. Go on the internet, you know, look it up in the history books, try to take the measure, there's a lot of material out there, you have to work hard at it.

Liz: Type in the words, voting record, and you can find out how an elected official actually voted on different issues.

Dan Rather: Well, when it comes to politicians, always look at the record. Frankly, don't pay a lot of attention to what they say, pay much attention to what they have done, and what they are doing. Always look at their record.

Teen: I'm gonna actually see what it is, and not what the hype is all about, not what they want me to perceive from it. Then, I'd make my own judgements.

Liz: What is the best way for young people to really get at what's going on?

Mike McCurry: Well, to read avidly, and to find lots of different sources so you can see lots of different kinds of opinions expressed, keep your ears and eyes open for the argument that rings true.

Teen: Understand what the message is.

L.L.CoolJ: You have to judge people based on what they show you, give you and knowledge they possess

Teen: If you're not educated about the issues they're tackling, how can you make a right decision?

John Hockenberry: Never assume that one source or a set of sources are going to be truthful under all circumstances

Smiley: Never do I use a story that only has a single source, that is to say one person said this, or one person said that. If one person said anything, that's just one person. You need to verify with a number of different people.

Teen: The information they do give you, you need to like research on it, so that you can get more from it.

Jonny Rotten: Knowledge is not a problem. It is to your benefit. It is to be something you should wallow in.

L.L.CoolJ: A way to build a foundation is through knowledge, through knowing, through learning, and through education.


Liz: Another great way to get information is to ask politicians some direct questions. Let's go to a town hall meeting with New York State Comptroller, Carl McCall.

Carl McCall: Well, what I try to point out to people is that the things that really affect you most are things that are decided by the political process. For instance, you've gotta have a good education, what about healthcare, childcare, the air we breathe, the water we drink, whether it's gonna be pure, whether we're protecting our environment. These decisions are all made by politicians. So, you can't afford to be out of politics.

Liz: A lot of young people, myself included, feel like maybe we can't afford to be in politics because there are all these special interest groups. We see that Gore and Bush together have raised $150 million. Money is a barrier because we don't have our own funds. How can we really be that effective?

Carl McCall: That's a good question. First of all, you have influence, too, ultimately, you can do just what the special interests do, you can vote. And people, if they know you vote, they will pay attention to you.

Teen: I wanted to know what is the process that decides where the money goes?

Carl McCall: The budget process is probably the most important process that happens in government. That's how they take in your money that you pay for taxes mainly, and then they decide how that money is going to be spent. If it's something we all have to be involved in, it gets down to another point, registering to vote because when they divide up the money, the money doesn't necessarily go to the areas where there is the greatest need, money goes to areas where there are the greatest number of votes. So, the budget process is a highly political process that is determined not on the basis of rationality or need, but by those who have political clout. Those who have political clout, they get their resources. The people who don't exercise their political clout, they get left out. The same thing in education. If students registered, and voted, and said you know, we're registered voters, and this is how many of us are registered, you would get the attention you deserve. You are the people who have the ultimate power and you gotta use it.

Gov. Whitman (R): You have to insist on being heard because the point is no matter your age, you can make a difference, and if you insist on being heard, you will be heard.

Jon Stewart: People talk about, "...ahh..kids today, Oh, they don't care about stuff." I don't get a sense of that.

Liz Clay: The only way we have leverage is through our votes, and so if we get out there and vote in big numbers, then they'll have to pay attention.

Teen: Now that I've seen how much effort goes into every little detail and how much can be said or not said in an ad or campaign, it's definitely gonna more important to me now to pay more attention.

Teen: I'll just view them and ask myself, " What am I getting out of this?" What issues are they addressing?

Teen: When I used to see things, you know when you see close up shots, when you see a guy's tie matching with the curtains, you know, I mean, you know, it just goes into your head, like, why is he really doing this, is he just fed up, or you know, does he really care about what he's standing up for?

Teen: When I'm watching it now. I used to say.. oh.. he says a nice outfit on, or oh.. he has nice features. Now, I'm like, is he really telling me the truth? Should I go to the library and do research on this?

Teen: Voters can't really rely on an ad to tell you what to do, tell you how to vote, you have to go out and educate yourself by doing the research on the candidate.

Teen: Now, I won't just watch it as a couch potato

Teen: Until people truly involve themselves and learn about what, you know, they need to have done or who they're electing to do that for them, you can't truly participate.

Teen: We're only as passive as we wanna be, and now looking at it, you can become aware, you can choose to sit and watch and have your own opinions, or you can choose, you know, to get involved.

Liz: You know, you really have to figure out, you know, who's telling the story, are you watching it on a network, why are they showing it to you, you know, who pays for them? There's just so many layers of it.


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