A reader writes:
I have a question that’s been bothering me about the Ahmadinejad visit press coverage, and actually all coverage of middle-eastern political figures/terrorists, etc. I couldn’t figure out who to ask, so I thought I’d throw it out to you and the reality-based community to solve.
Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia was universally described “rambling”. Bin Laden’s last tape was described as “rambling”. Al Sadr’s speeches are invariably described as “rambling” Go back a couple of years and Google Saddam Hussein’s speeches, and THEY’re all described as “rambling”. Why is this?
Possible explanations and ways to test which one is true:
* It’s a subtle stereotype of our political opponents — sort of like talking about what a female politician is wearing or praising the vitality and athleticism of an African-American. Test this by seeing if press claims that political figures from “friendly” middle eastern countries “ramble”.
There is a different cultural norm for public speaking in the middle east that sounds to us like “rambling” Test this by asking middle eastern people if THEY think Ahmadinejad was rambling.
* They all really do ramble. Is there something about being a dictator that discourages you from being concise? No one dares edit your speeches? If so, one would also expect a high incidence of rambling by faculty of Western universities. Oh, wait …
As noted above, there’s a way of testing each of these empirically, but I’m intellectually lazy and thought I’d see if anyone out there knew the answer already.
I have a fourth hypothesis, based on the fact that while the public seemed to like Bill Clinton’s speeches, the press often described them as over-long (I don’t know whether the word “rambling” was used): political reporters suffer from attention deficit disorder and dislike complex exposition. I also suspect that “rambling” is intended as a euphemism for “incoherent,” just as “controversial” is journalo-euphemese for “crooked” or “scandal-prone.”