Michael Deaver Would Have Made Them Eat Those Blackberries

The UK coalition government’s white paper on public service reform has gotten lukewarm reviews even from presumably friendly quarters such as The Economist and the FT. Putting aside substance for a moment and looking at the roll out of the policy, one thing that clearly did not help can be seen here. As Minister Letwin introduced the policy and answered questions in the House of Commons, members of his own party — including at one point a justly respected front bencher — could be seen on television tapping away on their Blackberries. C-Span addicts will recall similar scenes in the U.S. Congress: Cabinet secretaries testify earnestly whilst the staff behind them stare straight into handheld devices, pecking away madly at the keys, which are apparently far more interesting than anything their boss is saying.

When Mike Deaver told me that in televised political events, the image is almost everything, I told him that I wanted to believe he was wrong but knew he was right. Little things like a background audience conveying boredom as a policy position is described really shouldn’t matter, but they do. How do experienced political handlers who sweat over every syllable of their bosses’ long planned speeches not spend a moment contemplating the variable that will be more far more influential than any of the uttered words: “Who will be in the TV frame with him, and what will they be doing?”.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

One thought on “Michael Deaver Would Have Made Them Eat Those Blackberries”

  1. Pecking away madly at the keys, which are apparently far more interesting than anything their boss is saying

    I’ve been that guy, but it was exactly the opposite.

    (My role was to make sure that whatever set of results was being talked about was up, so if there was a question the information was right there in front of my boss.)

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