DIFFERANCE AND THE BENEFIT OF HUMOR
IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE
Jessica Joy Nelson
B.A, Colorado Christian University, 2006
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Social Science
2011 by Jessica Joy Nelson
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Masters in Social Science
Jessica Joy Nelson
has been approved
Nelson, Jessica Joy (MSS, Social Sciences, UCD)
Differance and the Benefit of Humor in Political Discourse
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Christopher Beekman
This research is an exploration of linguistic meaning. Meaning is not
inherent, and language is not neutral. Both meaning and language are affected by
context and power relations. The media and politics accentuate this dynamic.
Joking offers an avenue for shared understanding of ambiguous language, by
prioritizing context and allowing for an active interpretation and engagement with
meaning production. Jokings exposure and recognition of ambiguity allows for a
less ambiguous meaning to be shared. This is aided by the inclusion of contexts
and alternative meanings, forcing a conversational distillation of
meaning. Methodological backing is found in sociolinguistics and linguistic
anthropology. Theoretical backing includes anthropology, linguistic
anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and rhetoric.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
To the misunderstood.
Dr. Mallinson, I wouldnt be where I am at without your influence, neither as a
person nor as a scholar. Dr. Kim, your support and provision enriched my
academic pursuits and insights. Dr. Metcalf, Dr. Swartz, your commitment and
wisdom are appreciated beyond measure. And perhaps most importantly, my
advisor, Dr. Beekman, thank you for your patience and guidance. Your
inspiration and grounding of my lofty thoughts made this possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. AMBIGUITY IN MEANING AND THE ROLE OF JOKING.....................5
Language as Ambiguous; Meaning as Context Dependent...........5
Politics and the Media.......................................10
Joking and Joking Structure..................................13
Structure of Thesis..........................................17
Selection of Texts.........................................26
4. ANALYSIS OF TEXTS............................................34
Ambiguity of Meaning.........................................35
The Second Question in the Debate.....................35
Debate Question on Candidates Candor and Consistency.40
Interpretation and the Fixing of Meaning..................44
Spin and the Fixing of Meaningin ones favor.......46
Spin and Ambiguity: Challenging the spin
and its construction of reality......................49
ConclusionFlaws In Fixing Of Meaning................56
Joking and the Fixing of Meaning...........................57
The Daily Show and Spin Both Ways..................57
Jon Stewarts Broadcastin a joking framework........59
Benefits of Joking in the Media............................65
Shortcomings of Joking in the Media........................68
A. THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE CORAL
GABLES, FLORIDA SEPTEMBER 30,2004............................74
B. MSNBC NEWSCAST SEPTEMBER 30, 2004..........................105
C. FOX NEWS NETWORK SEPTEMBER, 30 2004........................115
D. THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART: THE
SQUABBLE IN CORAL GABLES
SEPTEMBER 30, 2004...........................125
In line with many contemporary movements and thinkers, this research
attempts to distance itself from platonic ideals and enlightenment ideology. In his
book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the
Mind, George Lakoff addresses some of these classical ideas I desire to give up:
meaning based on truth as reference, purely natural kinds and essential properties,
mind and body separation, emotion void of conceptual content, grammar
possessing pure form, reason as transcendental, the possibility of an objective
disembodied view, a single way of understanding what is, and a single correct
conceptual system (1987, p.9). It is difficult to abandon these classical ideas,
embedded deep within western history and ideology. However, this research will
attempt to embrace a distance from classical ideals, and a movement toward a
more pragmatic, less transcendental and objective, understanding.
This study emerges from an interdisciplinary background. Throughout
history, the study of and interest in language has taken many forms and pursued
diverse interests. Linguistics, rhetoric, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology
have all participated, toward different ends, in the pursuit of a better
understanding of language and meaning. I embrace an interdisciplinary
perspective, including the view of an interrelation and overlap of disciplines.
There are distinctions between the disciplines. Linguists tend to focus on
structures and grammars. Rhetoricians are interested in the use of language to
communicate. Philosophers views of language are as diverse as their
epistemologies, and range from dualism to relativism, from an a priori structure to
a symbolic tool. Sociologys interest in language led to the sub-discipline of
sociolinguistics, which aligns itself with linguistic concerns with structures and
grammars, but with a focus on the social. Anthropologists, with interest in
understanding people, cultures and societies, generally view language as a
naturally occurring incident to be evaluated in an ethnographic manner (Duranti
and Goodwin 1992, p. 1-5). Linguistic anthropology seeks the understanding of
the crucial role played by language (and other semiotic resources) in the
constitution of society and its cultural representations (Duranti 2001, p.5). It is a
look beyond grammar, and into a context-laden use of language, which shapes
utterances and produces meanings (Duranti 2001, p.l).
The purpose is not to unify perspectives or solidify a correct, objective
meaning, but rather to acknowledge a multivocal, multivalent culture with many
voices, multiple interpretations and perspectives, and rather than choosing a
single one, attempting to incorporate them all (Hodder 1991). In line with
Hodder, the attempt to incorporate multiple voices and interpretations is not to
mesh them all into one diverse perspective, but rather to acknowledge different
and competing ideas and interpretation.
Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into
the private property of the speakers intentions, it is populated -
overpopulated with the intentions of others. (Bakhtin 1981, p.294)
The production of linguistic meaning is neither inherent nor objective. It is
an interactive process of interpretation and meaning making. Linguistic meaning
extends beyond words, sentences, and even utterances. It is embedded in cultures
and contexts. The ambiguity present within language can result in different
interpretations of the same linguistic occurrence. Meaning production relies on
contextual cues (Duranti 2001, p. 19; Gumperz 1992, p.232-233). From these
contextual cues, meanings of linguistic occurrences can be constructed. Missing
contextual cues, or different interpretations thereof, may result in differentially
fixing meaning. It is not just what is said, but also the way in which it is said
(Duranti 2001, p.20-23). The contexts in which it arises, is spoken, and is
interpreted also affect the construction of meaning (Agger 1991, p.l 13)
It is not just about language. It is about power, and control. Language, like
other aspect of culture, can be seen as affected by sociocultural factors and
power dynamics (Aheam 2001, p. 111). It is co-constructed by participants,
emergent from particular social interactions (Aheam 2001, p.l 11). Language and
the meanings it evokes and produces are not neutral. There is an ambiguity in the
use of words, of language, that makes it susceptible to external factors.
Sociocultural influences, power relations, as well as other contextual influences
affect the production of meaning derived from language use.
Media and politics seem to accentuate this power dynamic. Linguistic
anthropologist S. Gal asserts, the strongest form of power may well be the ability
to define social reality, to impose visions of the world (Gal 1991, p.427). The
media affects meaning production: distilling how events, ideas, policies, persons,
language, and reality are to be interpreted, and through what vision of the world
and of society to do so.
Joking has become a way in which to critique media and politics. It, to
some extent, challenges social or even scientific norms (Gray, Jones, Thompson
2009, p.8-9). Jokes offer alternate ways of interpreting meaning. Jokes change, or
undermine, expectations, allowing for a defamiliarization, and the possibility
for seeing or interpreting a different way (Gray, Jones, Thompson 2009, p.8-9).
Joking, in terms of the media and politics, has been shown to offer several
benefits. Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey Jones, and Ethan Thompson (2009), all from the
discipline of Communication, examine some of these benefits in their book
Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era. One of the benefits is
that it provides social criticism (Gray, Jones, Thompson 2009). This has been
exhibited in social rebuke through ridiculousness; drawing] the absurdity out
and isolating] it, so that all can see it; and transforming a potentially divisive
and chaotic impulse...into a useful and artistic expression (Gray, Jones,
Thompson 2009, p.12-13). Freud put forth that jokes, or the understanding of
jokes, lower inhibitions and aid in the lifting of censorship (Freud 1960, p. 185-
186). He also demonstrates the use of allusions, double meanings, and revelations
of ignorance in joking (1960, p. 184).
In this research, joking is seen not merely as social criticism, not to deny
the effect thereof, but as a way in which ambiguous language can more
adequately be understood. In other words, joking will be explored as a way to re-
imbue language with context, creating the possibility for a shared meaning
production. It is not simply that joking has critiques and social negotiations of
boundaries to offer; joking offers a way to understand linguistic meanings,
interpretations, and speakers that allows for an authentic discourse.
A joking framework allows for context to remain a key factor in discourse
via the media. Joking is a highly contextualized form of communication (Queen
2005, p.244). Using a joking framework provides a structure that necessitates
contextual understanding. The media and political address are an example of
decontextualized discourse: different sides fix meaning differently, often missing
layers of contextual influence, and establish a truth without acknowledging
factors contributing to their interpretation. Reintroducing these layers or
acknowledging their absence can elicit a more attuned interpretation.
The study of joking in terms of media and politics is not without critique.
Neil Postman offers valuable critiques to its benefits. Postman says, tyrants of all
varieties have always known about the value of providing the masses with
amusements as a means of pacifying discontent (2006, p. 141). Postman suggests
that entertainment can stifle action. Also, media culture has been said to elicit
emotion, as opposed to intellect, to thrive off of amusement (Postman 2006,
p. 122-124). Not even satire can escape television programmings need for
amusement and entertainment (2006, p.161-162). Thus, joking in the media
succumbs to the same fate as media culture itself, providing entertainment, not
I believe joking in terms of media and politics still has much to offer. I
will not explore what it has to offer primarily in terms of discontent, social
critique, or even intellect and information. Rather, this research explores not what
is done with joking in terms of social, political, and intellectual revelation or
critique, but how joking can influence meaning production, how joking re-imbues
media or television discourse with the contextual cues that allow for an active
interpretation and engagement with meaning production. Joking in the media has
more to offer than sheer amusement or entertainment, or even social criticism. It
has the capacity to put forth a rigorous, contextual, and interactive understanding
and creating of meaning. It is not just the criticism of social aspects, but of how
these aspects are framed and how meaning is produced.
A general acknowledgement of linguistic relativity and an awareness of
meanings context dependency have not been sufficiently explored within media
and politics. Ambiguity in language allows for different interpretations of the
same occurrence. Joking allows for a playful dissonance in interpretation. It
acknowledges and reveals different interpretations, which can enhance
commonality in understanding, meaning creation. Joking helps reveal what can
easily be forgotten: an active and interactive approach understanding and
evaluating meaning and its production.
AMBIGUITY IN MEANING AND THE ROLE OF JOKING
Language as Ambiguous; Meaning as Context Dependent
Language is ambiguous. Linguistic anthropology has used the term
linguistic relativity to express this concept (Duranti 2001, p. 11). It began as an
intercultural theory, expounding the differences in categories, information
encoding, and worldview as related to languages and their structures (Duranti
2001, p.l 1). Linguistic relativity has since been explored intraculturally as well,
demonstrating variance among monolingual populations (Labov 1966).
The interpretation of meaning from linguistic occurrences is affected by
contexts, contextual layers, layers of meanings, and power dynamics. Contextual
influences on language and understanding, or interpretation, can be seen
throughout anthropology and philosophy. Jacques Derrida explores contextual
layers and layers of meaning. Michel Foucault, amongst others, shows the
influence of power dynamics on meaning production.
Many contextual factors come to bear in the production and interpretation
of meaning. These contextual factors influence how ambiguity in language is
turned into knowledge or meaning. These aspects of context include ideology,
socioeconomic status, personal experience, histories, as well as verbal cues such
as sequences, patterns, allusions, and grammatical structures.
The situated, embedded, contextual background in which language occurs,
helps create and re-construct meaning. Within this contextualized, historically
accountable worldview, Michele Koven (1998) sees language use as promoting
changing contexts and identities. He shows possibilities for differential selves,
based on differential language structures. He shows identity as linked not only to
language, but also to context. The origin of where the language is learned is
critical. Especially the rural v. urban setting, has effect on the identity of the
language user in context, or at least the perception thereof. Through different
languages, the same person is perceived in quite different ways. Language and
identity are shown as contextual and malleable.
This helps demonstrate the original focus of linguistic relativity, the
difference between languages. The use of two different languages evokes
different understandings of an occurrence. Meaning of events and identities are
augmented by linguistic context and structure. Koven shows that where a person
learned a language, and the contexts and culture therein, affect how they present
meaning. Their representation of the same event is portrayed differently in
William Labov helped expand linguistic relativitys application into
monolingual communities. His study of the Black English vernacular shows the
production of sentences that have two directly opposite meanings, depending on
who hears it (Labov 1972, p.773). In studying dialects, Labov showed variance
in understanding within speakers of the same language. John Gumperz sees a
separation of dialects and styles, which he has used to categorize speech
communities (1986, p.43). Speech communities are considered a field of action
where the distribution of linguistic variants is a reflection of social facts
(Gumperz 1968, p.47). It is not just inherent linguistic traits but usage that
affect dialect distinctions (Gumperz 1968, p.47). Dialects often exist on
socioeconomic lines, their distinction relating to geographical origin and social
background (Gumperz 1968, p.47). Language is not univocal. The same
linguistic occurrence can mean drastically different things to people of different
contexts, regions, and social backgrounds.
One of the factors in differential understanding is context. Context can be
seen as underlying causes and contributors to meaning. It lies behind and beyond
the use of language, and it affects understanding and interpretation. It includes
things that determine how one interprets and understands words, sentences,
conversations, and events. Context is a constantly changing frame that needs
reference to speech itself as one of its constitutive elements (Duranti 2001, p.7).
Anthropologist S. Gal emphasizes the benefit of contextual understanding
and interpretation of peoples and cultures. A contextualized look at ethnography
can take into account what lies behind and beyond language. Ethnography can be
seen as a power-charged verbal encounter (1989, p.361). The very idea of who
can claim to speak for other members of the group, and who remains silent, and
what, among contested cultural meanings, it is possible and strategic to say all
depend on power relations within the society as well as the contexts of force and
economic dependency in which the ethnographic encounter itself is embedded
(Gal 1989, p.361). Gal exhibits the presence and usefulness of an embedded
understanding of what is a dynamic process of communication and interpretation.
Although ethnographers tend to look at cultures and languages different
than their own, these power dynamics and power-charged verbal encounters]
are present in their own culture and language as well. The benefit of examining
meanings and contexts within ones own culture and language is an increased
familiarity with contextual and linguistic possibilities and nuances. However, as
Bourdieu (2001) has explored with the concept of habitus, one of the
disadvantages is a propensity to be blind to causes and origins of power relations,
contexts, and meanings.
Context not only affects how the speaker uses language, but also how the
listeners interpret what is being said. Different contexts can lead to different
interpretations of the same conversation or speech. Derrida (1978) examines
contextual layers that affect meaning and interpretation. This idea is explored
through the concept of difference. The French word differance can mean both
deferment and difference. The idea is that textual meaning is both different
and deferred (Derrida 1976; 1972). It can be differentially understood, and it can
always be reinterpreted. Whether this is in light of new evidence or new contexts
or simply new interpreters, meaning is not a constant.
Derrida (1976) looks past intent and reference. His thought contributes to
understanding meaning in terms of context, deferment, and difference (Derrida
1981). Meaning is not simply authorial intent or referential understanding.
Derrida uses the bounds of the speakers paradigm and the paradigms
assumptions to show how understanding can be differentially constructed, using
the very system from which the original meaning was seen as absolute (1978).
Context includes social aspects. Michel Foucault (1972) addresses social
and interpersonal relations, and their impact on knowledge, on meaning creation.
In explicating Foucault, Communication professors Foss, Foss, and Trapp address
his view of systems and practice: for societies and individuals, systems of
thought and practice [...] become so much a part of them that they no longer
experience them as confinements but view them as the very structure of being
human (2002, p.343). Foucault also sees knowledge as a result of, as well as
imbued with, power and power structures (Foucault 1980; 1985). Knowledge
itself is not a static, objective occurrence. It is the product of relations and
structures, and is permeated by these power dynamics.
Hegel (1807) sees knowledge as possible only through a reflective,
historic, entangled process. Knowledge cannot be isolated from relationships and
subjects; it cannot be gained from an objective external standpoint. There is no
possibility for a pure I standing and judging from above/outside. Both theory
and the individual are created within a system, embedded in and mediated by a
context. Thought and knowledge are more appropriately understood when
historicized, and placed within their contextual groundings (Hegel 1807). With
Hegel, there is no simply is. It is all located in time and place, with underlying
relationships. External objective truth is dismissed, or at least the capacity to
achieve, orient, divulge, and/or communicate said truth.
Bell hooks1 sees this contextual embeddedness not only in what is known,
but in communication itself. Domination is a prevalent part of communication;
who can be involved in the conversation, who can speak, what grammar and
vocabularies are acceptable, these are all set up to form a system of domination.
In terms of communication, bell hooks advocates accessibility. Communicating in
a way that is accessible and understandable for a broad audience challenges the
ideology of domination present in many forms of communication. From
academia, specialized vocabularies, and proper grammatical usage to dominant
cultural assertions of a singular understanding of reality to colonization:
communication and knowledge have been set in a framework of dominance. This
is not without exception, but the goal is to challenge the system of domination and
create a broader shared understanding.
Language is ambiguous. It is through contexts and power structures that
language is interpreted and given meaning. The same utterance can have opposite
meanings (Labov 1972, p.773). Socioeconomics influence language use and
meaning production (Gumperz 1968). Exposing histories, sociocultural
influences, power dynamics, and differential meanings, allows for a more attuned
interpretation of language, within its contextual fields.
1 For ideological reasons, bell hooks does not capitalize her name/pseudonym.
Politics and the Media
The media affects contextualization and understanding. Rather than
allowing meaning to be an interactive process, the media turns it into a one sided
bestowment. Jean Baudrillard looks at language and communication in terms of
the media. He focuses on the symbolic and referential nature of language. He sees
the media as altering reality in three main ways: the medium becomes the
message, reality is fashioned, and information rather than communication is
supreme (Baudrillard 1985, p.587). The media, which seems to be the national
form of connection and communication, ends up objectifying people.
Rather than communicating information or knowledge, the media
promotes incoherence and triviality and television speaks in only one
persistent voicethe voice of entertainment (Postman 2006, p.80). News is not
for education, reflection, or catharsis (Postman 2006, p.87-88). The media is
focused on broad audience appeal and entertainment (Postman 2006, p. 106, 87).
Entertainment, not education or interactive communication, is prized.
The media changes the way reality is experienced (Baudrillard 1985,
p.587). The issue, as Baudrillard sees it, is essentially a separation from the real.
Rather than language offering communication of norms and expectations in a
symbolic exchange in an interpretive interaction, the media has turned
communication into emission and reception; the non-reciprocal bestowment of
ideology in what should be a reciprocal exchange resulting in mutual
understanding. In doing so, they decontextualized communication; they deny
access to meaning. There is no genuine exchange, no response, no responsibility
(Baudrillard 1985, p.577).
One might argue that books also possess this form of one-way
communication. This brings in the relation of Derridas textual deconstruction and
differance. The reader is the one who interprets and fixes meaning. However,
with the media, the media is interpreting the text and the audience is receiving
this meaning as given. Perhaps this is because of a perceived authority or
special access to knowledge on the part of the media. Or, it could be a lack of
engagement due to the entertainment value of the program. Whatever the
reason, in doing so, the media denies any real access to individual and
contextually situated understanding. As with texts, media communication, and
what it communicates, can be seen in terms of differance. It is beneficial to
evaluate layers of meaning in media communication and its texts to see beyond
the mere surface transmission. This enables a nuanced look at differential
meaning and interpretation.
Media transmission brings up questions about Internet communication.
The Internet is a medium for communication, and does not in itself rid a text,
conversation, or video of its embedded contextuality. However, part of the issue is
that even real in-person communication does not necessarily demand an
understanding of the contextual aspects it is riddled with. The media simply
seems to be an exaggerated example. The media is not alone in this, but it
commodifies language (Baudrillard 1985). It deprives language of its symbolic
exchange and instead situates it within a static isolated non-interactive paradigm
and objectifies it, which can lead to misuse and misunderstanding.
Society and meanings influence by and relation to the media was
examined by Herbert Marcuse (1992). Coercion is an ever-present part of society.
There is a fusion of ones ideology with the system; there is an integration of
preconceptions and biases with the cultural industry (Marcuse 1992, p. 115). This
cultural industry creates and implements values, aspirations, and fears that are put
forth as innate (1992, p.l 15). Simple reform cannot be the solution, for it is a
reproduction of that system (Marcuse 1992, p.l 12-115; Postman 2006). It is not
the critique of the system, or an overcoming or challenging; rather it reinforces
the notion of the necessity of the transcendence of the system.
For Marcuse, it is not just the way communication is provided by the
media that is the issue. It is the creation and implementation of ideology and
culture without critical insight into its source. The media fixes meaning. It
implements its ideologies and decides what things mean: not just what has
significance and value, but also how concepts are interpreted. Rather than having
an exchange to establish meaning and provide mutual understanding, the media
The media changes the way reality is experienced, fixing meaning and
creating a separation from the real. This separation disconnects meaning from its
context. It takes a situated embedded instance, separates it from its context and
bestows meaning. Political discourse provides an avenue in which the media
routinely interprets one linguistic event differentially. Multiple political parties
comment on nearly every political address, creating competing commentaries
exploiting an underlying variability inherent in the use of discourse.
Politics is intertwined with the media. Not only is it subject to some of the
same critiques, but the media constitutes much of the coverage and awareness in
terms of politics. American politics can be seen as dualistic. Although one can
register to vote as a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, only two parties
participate in mainstream debates, and only two parties have occupied the white
house for at least the last century. George Lakoff (2002) in his book Moral
Politics describes the incompatibilities between the two parties, incompatibilities
that include not only policy differences, but ideological as well.
The media affects how occurrences are understood. Through
entertainment and lack of critical engagement, the media affects meaning
production. It accentuates the power dynamics in fixing meaning of ambiguous
language. It can be seen as taking linguistic occurrences, which can be understood
differentially, and saying what they mean, without acknowledging the ambiguity
Joking and Joking Structure
Explorations of joking in anthropology include the study of jokings
function in culture (Christensen 1963), its negotiation of sociocultural boundaries
and stereotypes (Queen 2005), and its emergent, self-generative form
(Handelman and Kapferer 1972, p.513). Clear bounds have not yet been set for
what is to be considered joking (Seizer 1997, p.62). Although joking and joking
frameworks can be seen as separate, a clear distinction is not so simple. Joking
involves the telling of jokes, patterned exchanges often ending humorously.
Joking frameworks involve relationships and the use of jokes to navigate cultural
situations and relations. The reason for this separation of terms is to delineate two
areas, one which anthropologists have traditionally been interested in, and one
that is recently coming into recognition.
Joking relationships have been seen in and through their relation to kin
relationships (Seizer 1997). These relationships have been more central, as
anthropologists valued their relation to culture and cultural transmission. Jokes
themselves, however, were disregarded, or at least ignored (Seizer 1997, p.62).
However, recently anthropologists have joined linguists and folklorists in
significantly extending the study of speech acts and their contexts under the rubric
of verbal performance (Seizer 1997, p.62).
Jokes can be seen to include: humor, unexpected meanings, offensive
language and implications, stereotypes, community negotiation and boundaries. It
is a contextualized discourse that necessitates shared knowledge and/or
assumptions to come to a common, and often humorous, end. Joking possesses
avenues for shared, common, intended understanding; and it is usually obvious
who has participated in this common understanding; laughter is generally a tell.
Although joking was often left out of the anthropologists realm of study, Seizer
suggests that anthropologists have started to see value in the inclusion of joking
within their studies and framework. They also began to see it as a valuable and
distinctive form of negotiating identity and community boundaries, as well as
interaction with a community (Queen 2005). Not only does joking allow the
diffusion of confrontation and a way out of taking sides, it also establishes
communities and aids in setting their boundaries.
Radcliffe-Brown defines the joking relationship as a relation between
two persons in which one is by custom permitted, and in some instances required,
to tease or make fun of the other, who in turn is required to take no offence
(1940, p. 195). It is a permitted disrespect (Christensen 1963, p. 1314). Joking
allows for friction to be avoided and hostility dissipated (Christensen 1963,
p.1314). Joking can perform functions of solidarity-building,
recontextualizations of social life, intertextual properties (Queen 2005,
p.242). It can also be used to negotiate requests for favors, fill uncomfortable
pauses, build group solidarity, create and maintain rapport, and establish group
norms (Norrick 1993, p.l, 43-45,78).
Joking allows for a permitted disrespect. It is a way to question
authority or power dynamics without directly undermining them. Not only can it
unite people and question stereotypes, it allows for offense-less critiques.
Joking can provide a way to negotiate conflict, without avoidance or hostility.
Solidarity building may be enhanced by the appeal of joking to shared
experiences. These experiences do not have to be elicited every time, the license
to joke can be rooted in the mutual past experiences of participants
(Handelman and Kapferer 1972, p.284-285).
Jokes often are addressed to an intended audience, and evoke stereotypes
and categorization (Queen 2005, p.243). Jokes also help enhance and clarify
social distinction. Joking is inherently paradoxical in that the signal is in a sense
untrue [...and understanding] requires the simultaneous involvement of a
recipient and of conventional means of distinguishing play from nonplay (Queen
2005, p.243). There is an intertextuality necessary between joke-teller and
audience (Queen 2005, p.244). Pre-established shared context is necessary for
joking. For a joke to work there needs to be common understanding and context
between the participants. This sense of untrue signals allows for a critique to be
more or other than a critique, for disrespect to be received as jest. It allows for
boundaries to be challenged and maintained, at the same time.
Neal Norrick, professor, linguist, and discourse analyst, lays the
foundation for his research, and research to follow, in a marriage of convenience
between discourse analysis and humor studies (1993, p.2). Norrick brings to light
contextual aspects to consider in the discourse analysis of jokes: the physical
setting, the participants, and their reasons for being together...the emotional
atmosphere [and extending as well into] social roles the participants present and
their interrelations along with their cultural lore about places, customs and
interactions... (1993, p.4). Not all are privy to all the contextual background
[needed] to understand a joke (Norrick 1993, p.6). Common background
information, stereotypes, habits, assumptions, goals, et cetera set the stage for
joking to make sense. Understanding context is especially important when broad
audiences are involved, for although there may be an assumed shared context;
there are likely stark differences in contextual nuances and meaning making.
Derrida can be seen as included in/ appropriate to joking for several
reasons (and vice versa): joking can be seen as an application of the deferment of
meaning, always capable of reevaluation, it can be the reevaluation of a common
understanding; joking can demonstrate a different understanding and
interpretation; joking can be used to unearth differential meanings and
understandings; joking can reveal contextually embedded meanings hidden by
objective understanding; and amongst other things, it seems that joking exists
within a contextual and malleable use of language. Jokes are not simply
formulated interchanges to elicit laughter. There are new jokes, old jokes, revised
jokes, but joking does not rely solely on these preconceived collections of jokes.
It can be a deferment, reevaluation, or play on differential meaning from regular
Derrida does not offer a paradigm, per se, to follow. Rather, he exposes
the shortcomings, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies within systems that assume
coherence and objectivity (Derrida 1978). Joking framework seems to offer
similar critiques to some of Derridas work: contextual, multivalent, pragmatic
use and understanding of language, linguistic and communal navigation, within an
assumed paradigm that is often more consistent and objective. One way to look at
it is that, to often differing ends, both use the systems constructs and meanings to
expose their shortcomings, inconsistencies, or competing meanings and
From Derridas contextualized deferment and difference in meaning, and
anthropologys semi-recent shift in attitude toward joking, the inclusion of joking
in language understanding becomes a viable avenue; and not just for
understanding joking, but how joking can aid in understanding other discourse. In
enlisting contextualized meaning, anthropology has recently begun to explore
how jokes and joking frameworks play into cultural navigation, meaning, and
understanding (Seizer 1997, p.62-63). Derridas examples, such as the
pharmakon, bring in ideas of flexible, paradoxical, and coexistent meanings,
even within a presumed objective framework. A thing being the thing and its
opposite, or a thing and something else, can evoke jokes and plays on words.
Joking allows for a more attuned pursuit of meaning, offering a contextualized
form from which to exploring meaning and meaning creation.
Structure of Thesis
The ambiguity present in language can make it difficult to convey
meaning. Words, sentences, and event, can be misconstrued. Whether on purpose
or by accident, conservative and liberal media differentially construct meaning.
This liberal-conservative dichotomy is especially present in terms of politics.
Politics illustrates a sharp divide in the fixing of meaning. From candidates
speeches to policy, there is a sharp divide on their perception. The media and
politicians, usually through the avenue of the media, often weigh in after
candidates speeches or policy disagreements telling audiences what things mean.
Conservatives and liberals seem to come up with different meanings. Joking
offers another option.
Joking has been explored in terms of media and politics. It has been
explored as a social critique and a challenge of norms; it has been accused of
perpetuating the entertainment industry, pacifying the masses. Beyond critique
and amusement, joking has something to offer at a basic level. Joking re-imbues
media communication with context and provide avenues for differential
interpretation. It has the potential to critique without offense, and address
controversy without avoidance or hostility. In a dualistic frame, such as American
politics, joking offers a way out of an either/or dichotomy. It is not just a critique
of one or both sides, but a way to reveal a spectrum of beliefs and possibilities.
This research will look at the first presidential debate of 2004, and media
commentary thereof. This will include one commentary by liberal media, one
by conservative media, and the commentary by The Daily Show with Jon
Stewart, which will provide a view through a joking framework. The debate
itself will be looked at along with the three commentaries, in an effort to see how
a joking frame differs from the construction of meaning put forth by the other
The next chapter will explore the methods by which the analysis will take
place. Deconstruction, discourse analysis, and thick description will be the
methodological basis for this exploration. The next chapter will go over these
influences and how they contribute to the mode of analysis. It will also explain
what was looked for in the selection of texts, and how the chosen texts aided in
the theoretical and methodological pursuits of this research.
This will be followed by the analysis of the texts, the debate and three
commentaries. The analysis will explore the ambiguity in meaning present in the
texts, as well as how the commentaries strive to fix the meaning of the debate. It
will look at how a commentary situated in a joking framework differs from other
commentaries, and how this affects the fixing of meaning.
The final chapter will explore the benefits and shortcomings of the joking
framed commentary. It will also examine possibilities for why, if any, benefits did
not exist, and how these benefits might be bestowed. Shortcomings include
political bias, as well as a difficulty bridging the sharp divide between political
parties and ideologies. The benefits will include a contextual, embedded
interpretation of the ambiguity present in language. Joking offers a non-dualistic
fixing of meaning, providing differential interpretations, and dual meanings. This
includes the offering of a nuanced, non-dichotomous, view of the designation
flip-flopper. It also allows for offense-less critique, and exposing of hidden
contexts. Jokes can offer a level of ridiculousness that provides the need for
interaction and evaluation, showing that what is said is not to simply be received,
or taken at face value. The final chapter will also delve into possibilities for future
This research will be based in linguistic anthropology and its methods.
Linguistic anthropology, though being influenced by Labov and sociolinguistics,
has become more ethnographically and conceptually focused. The main difference
becomes apparent in anthropologys commitment to contextuality. Linguistic
anthropologists are much more reserved in reporting their findings,
acknowledging how difficult it can be to share research with a broad audience,
while still being responsible to and accountable for contextual nuances (Duranti
2001, p.7-8). Without full contextual understanding, the research can be
misunderstood. Within a sub-discipline emphasizing and seeking better
understand of, in, and through variation, such misunderstanding can undermine
the very direction thereof. Perhaps not oddly, such research is hard to locate and
distill. Not to mention their methods are difficult to objectively identify.
Linguistic Anthropology has focused on embedded conversations, rather
than interviews or surveys. Likewise, jokes and joking are necessarily embedded
in real life contexts, and must be examined in light of their contextual frames. It is
important to examine and understand their interpersonal and social dimensions,
which require an investigation of their real-life context (Norrick 1993, p.2). It is
a focus on embedded everyday conversation, not generalizing like past studies,
but examining actual real-life conversations (Norrick 1993, p.3). Although the
media is less like a conversation than a one-sided bestowment, it provides a real-
life interpersonal production and reception of language. The media also provides a
place where this conversation is presented through serious discourse and a
There are three major influences on method: deconstruction, discourse
analysis, and thick description. Deconstruction, though arguably not a method in
itself, influences this exploration. Although Derrida himself shied away from
defining deconstruction, several scholars have tried to put words to its definition.
Paul de Man characterized it by stating: "It's possible, within text, to frame a
question or undo assertions made in the text, by means of elements which are in
the text, which frequently would be precisely structures that play off the rhetorical
against grammatical elements" (Moynihan 1986, p. 156). Rorty states: "the term
'deconstruction' refers in the first instance to the way in which the 'accidental'
features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly 'essential'
Although deconstruction is hard to define, de Man and Rorty use the term
to describe a way of looking at the text that plays structures against other
elements, that sees what could be inconsequential as undermining its the texts
foundations. These definitions generally trend toward the undermining of basic
assumptions and structures. This plays into, but may not directly correlate to some
of the ways deconstruction is used. It is how it is used that has the most effect on
this research. Anthropologist George E. Marcus (1988) uses deconstruction to
break up the neat unit that presumes univocal culture. It can also be seen as an
exploratory aspect of analysis, or active reading: deconstructive reading prises
open inevitable, unavoidable gaps of meaning that the reader fills with their own
interpolative sense [...] reading is a strong activity, not merely passive reflection
of an objective text with singular meaning (Agger 1991, p.l 13). It is this active
role in interpretation that is being sought.
These applications of deconstruction form a methodological groundwork.
Derridas work delves into a non-objective pursuit of meaning and understanding
(1981). Perhaps it is differance that best characterizes what I am using from
Derrida. An example is Derridas explication of pharmakon (Derrida 1981). In
his explication pharmakon, though not improperly translated as remedy, can
also be seen as poison. The possibility for opposite interpretations, not only of
the word, but of what it is used in conjuncture with, can be seen to turn meaning
on its head. Instead of objective, definite understanding, meaning is not so simple.
Interpretations can be multiple and irreconcilable; oppositional meaning
for the same articulation may indeed be implied within discourse. This attention
to and pursuit of difference in meaning is a driving force in this study. Breaking
up univocal meanings and showing differential interpretations is a starting point.
Discourse analysis provides another layer of insight into method. It has
been defined and explored in different manners. This research will embark upon
contextualized analysis and explication of layers of meaning and intent. Although
the word discourse can be defined differentially, for this research it will be
defined as the fixation of meaning within a particular domain (Phillips and
Jorgensen 2002, p.141). In this case, how meaning is fixed in a regular news
program versus one set within a joking framework. The latter will be seen through
the programming on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Discourse analysis has provided an avenue to study and explicate
competing ways of understanding the same thing (Phillips and Jorgensen 2002,
p.27-30). These competing meanings can be examined to find their underlying
cultural and linguistic contexts and meanings. Meaning can best be understood
within its embedded context (Phillips and Jorgensen 2002, p.67). This analysis
takes into account the context from which discourse emerges and that in which it
According to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffes (1985) discourse
theory, the goal of the discourse analyst is to plot the course of these struggles to
fix meaning at all levels of the social (Phillips and Jorgensen 2002, p.24). For
discourse analyst Norman Fairclough (1995), discourse is an important form of
social practice which both reproduces and changes knowledge, identities and
social relations including power relations, and at the same time is also shaped by
other social practices and structures (Phillips and Jorgensen 2002, p.65).
Linguistic anthropology seeks to study language in a way that often starts
from utterances but always looks for the cultural fabric within which such
utterances are shaped and meanings are produced (Duranti 2001, p. 1). This
research will enlist insight into meanings from the contexts in which they are
produced and interpreted (Duranti 2001, p.30). It is a look into contexts, and how
they contribute to meaning production, or interpretation.
Clifford Geertzs push to understand culture on its own terms helped
develop a method of thick description. For Geertz, anthropology is not an
experimental science in search of laws but an interpretive one in search of
meaning (1973, p.532-533). Thick description has allowed anthropology to
participate in and acknowledge cultures and differences, while trying to limit
personal biases and preconceptions, in an effort to understand other cultures and
people on their own terms, from within their own systems and theories. Identical
behaviors may possess different meanings. Likewise, identical discourse can elicit
different interpretations thereof.
Thick description explores webs of significance (Geertz 1973). In
analyzing culture, identical movements can possess different meanings. Clifford
Geertz (1973) explicates this with the difference between a wink and a twitch.
Although the movements are identical, their meaning is quite different. An issue
with examining events is that most of what we need to comprehend a particular
event, ritual, custom, idea, or whatever is insinuated as background information
before the thing itself is directly examined (Geertz 1973). Layers of context are
necessary to understand events. In thick description there is an attempt to
revitalize the other in their own terms, gaining closer understanding of their
perspective and meaning, and continually reinterpreting when more data or new
insights arise. It is an attempt to provide as much information in particulars as
possible, and from such data, extrapolate meaning. An example of this is the
relation of everyday things to structures, assumptions, and meaning in culture.
Geertz expresses his use of thick description in the article Thick Description:
Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.
It is thus that I have written about nationalism, about violence,
about identity, about human nature, about legitimacy, about
revolution, about ethnicity, about urbanization, about status, about
death, about time, and most of all about particular attempts by
particular peoples to place these things in some sort of
comprehensible, meaningful frame. (1973)
Thick description emphasizes the importance of contexts and webs of
significance. It also explores how people create meaningful frames. Meaning is
ambiguous, and particular individuals construct meaning differently. Identical
occurrences can possess different meanings.
Context is an important aspect of thick description. It helps provide insight
into the background of what is being described. Context is being used to
describe a constantly changing frame that needs reference to speech itself as one
of its constitutive elements (Duranti 2001, p.7). Context lies behind discourse
and must be taken into account to create and understand meaning. This also
harkens back to Boas (1911) and seeing the sentence, not the word, as primary for
meaning creation. Rather than grammatical delineation down to the word, and
definite meanings thereof, Boas found meaning situated in a larger contextualized
unit. Context will be seen to include class, gender, ethnicity, ideology, worldview,
personal history, long term and short term cultural understanding, current events,
cultural histories, education, etiquette, socialization, political association, and well
as verbal issues such as interpretation of words with multiple meanings,
sequences within and between conversations, patterns, order, allusions, and other
verbal indicators used to establish meaning.
In overview, identical linguistic occurrences can possess different
meanings. Thick description not only contributes to theoretical background for
this research, but methodological as well. Thick description shows a descriptive,
contextual pursuit of how people place meaning on occurrences, and how they
situate them into a comprehensible, meaningful frame (Geertz 1973).
These three methodological influences create an explorative basis for this
research. As with Derrida, there is a look into alternative meanings and
possibilities: an exploration of layers of intent, meaning, and context. As
deconstruction has been applied in anthropology, there is an attempt to break up
the neat unit that presumes univocal culture (Marcus 1988). Discourse analysis
explores competing ways of understanding the same thing (Phillips and Jorgensen
2002, p.27-30). This research will use description to attempt to plot the course of
these struggles to fix meaning at all levels of the social (Phillips and Jorgensen
2002, p.24). Thick description helps advise how to describe, and what to describe.
It is an in-depth description, with attention to particulars, what meanings are
created, and how people frame occurrences in a meaningful way.
This aggregate method is useful for exploring meaning and context. It
offers a way to descriptively examine how meaning is fixed, the contexts that
affect its production, and how frames structure understanding. This method
provides an avenue for exploring and describing possibilities for meaning and
understanding from nationally situated political discourse, between politics and
the medias serious conversations and that which is situated within a joking
framework. It is an application and evaluation of differance, deferment and
difference, an exploration of differential meaning.
Selection of Texts
Before the political address and commentaries can be explored, they must
be chosen. The political address needs to be accessible, so that I (and future
researchers) can examine it. It needs to have commentaries, both from serious
media news and news within a joking framework. These allow for a look at
ambiguous language, and how it is fixed to meanings. It also provides a
comparison between normal language and framing and those of joking.
Media and politics provide an accentuate look at linguistic ambiguity, and
meaning production. A political address, speech, or debate allows for/presents
several benefits. First, it situates this study within the context of the researcher.
This includes an English speaking, fragmented, American context within the early
21st century. Although research within ones own culture is liable to overlook
power dynamics and aspects of habitus, the benefits include a more attuned
understanding of contexts and language as well as histories, allusions, double
meanings, and other aspects key to understanding joking. Secondly, this type of
political address is tailored for a broad audience, which provides a diversity of
contexts and subcultures. A presidential address is also likely to be well
documented and archived, creating a permanent source for evaluation.
The political address, speech, or debate will provide the primary source of
ambiguous meaning. Commentaries will also be enlisted. Although they do
provide ambiguity in terms of meaning, they are set up to fix the meaning of what
is said. They interpret for their audience the meaning of the address. A
commentary set within a joking framework will then be enlisted for a differential
approach to fixing meaning.
In searching for a political address and commentaries, there are several
issues. Amongst these are: documentation, spin, engagement by different
viewpoints, and the sharp ideological divide between the two prevalent political
parties in the United States.
Political addresses can be documented in different forms. Both videos and
transcripts are used to create records of political addresses. Videos are not readily
available. However, there are vast archives of news transcripts. The decision was
made to find already publicized transcripts of the commentaries and address. This
does not apply to the video segment from Jon Stewart. This will be explained
later. Although there are some issues associated with transcripts, including how to
record pauses, mumblings, gestures, and people speaking at the same time, the use
of transcripts provides several benefits. The first benefit is that they are already
transcribed and available. They were transcribed and produced by those with
experience in this form and style of transcription, and presumably sanctioned by
the news outlets. These transcripts also provide a permanent source to be included
in the Appendices of this research. Another benefit is that they provide the
capacity for future research to look beyond words and sentences, and transcripts,
into gestures, pauses, tonal variance, et cetera, available on video. The latter areas
of non-verbal communication are not emphasized in this research. Looking at
transcripts instead of videos allows this research to focus on a more linguistic side
of meaning making. These transcripts come from an industry that is used to
transcribing with a history and knowledge base therein. Consequently, the use of
these transcripts does not impede the research or its goals, offers some benefits,
and provides easy access to the research material.
Originally, I looked into using the State of the Union address. This was
not chosen, but it provides further insight into what is needed in the political
address. The State of the Union address possessed many of my requirements:
there was one recent enough to be able to locate commentaries, it was addressed
to a national audience, and provided a glimpse at differential interpretation.
However, the engagement by different viewpoints was missing. Rather than
commentaries being on the address, they were often on what should have been
said or what they would have said. This is an interesting phenomenon, but not the
direction of this research. The 2010 State of the Union was followed by the
Republican commentary, or rebuttal, which was its own state of the union. There
was no interaction with the actual address. The ideological differences of where
things are, where they have come from, and where they are going were too great
for a mere commentary. Rather than fixing the meaning of what the president
said, or commenting on his viewpoints, they offered their own view. This lack of
engagement is certainly its own issue, but it did not offer the contextual variance
and interpretation of a single event.
Looking at he State of the Union address and its commentaries
brought to light the sharp ideological differences of the two primary political
parties. These differences did not allow them to come together on the state of the
union. They are also apparent in political debates and speeches. The two primary
political parties put forth interpretations, and fix the identities of candidates.
These differences often lead to ineffective communication and result in a lack of
mutual understanding. These political differences are part of the contexts in which
interpretations are made.
After looking at the State of the Union address, I settled on the first
presidential debate of 2004. Although it is not an individual speech, it allows for
an array of interpretation by opposing sides. It is an organized act, to a broad
audience, meant to elicit some kind of understanding or meaning. The debate
format also allows for a bilateral look at meaning fixing and ideological
influences. There is also a framework that while the candidate is speaking to the
other candidate; he is also speaking to a contextual diverse population of voters.
Some of the benefits of a debate are: a debate offers a struggle to fix meaning,
both in the debate and afterwards; it offers political address meant for a broad
audience; it elicits apparent layers of meaning, intent and interpretation; it also
shows the sharing in and development of context and competing ways of
understanding the same thing; and it is well documented and archived.
Spin was another issue in looking for texts. I wanted to find
commentaries enlisting spin. This provides a glimpse into the range of
interpretations and meaning bestowed upon the event. It provides a more obvious
bias, and shows how meaning and context can be created or employed. The spin
is generally given by each party to fix the meaning and outcome of the debate in
their favor. It is an obvious fashioning of reality and events, which fixes meaning
without a necessary connection to context. It is quite like Baudrillards (1985)
perception of the media, only more transparent.
In exploring competing meanings, three commentaries will be evoked.
The use of three commentaries will give the opportunity to examine speeches
from different political parties, offering a wider context and worldview; and to
elicit a range of contextual variations and interpretations within which the
researcher is familiar. Rather than analyzing two or more commentaries from each
category or adding minute variations of commentators and ideologies, only three
will be examined. In the tradition of discourse analysis, the goal is not statistics or
scientific objectivity. Rather, it is to examine each perspective in depth, exploring
competing meanings, without overwhelming the research with extensive
examples. It is more of a localized thick description (see Geertz).
The commentaries will be chosen from competing ideologies: one from
the conservative side, one from a liberal side, and one from within the joking
framework. Jon Stewart will be used for the joking framed commentary. Although
there are others who comment on news within a joking motif, Stewart is both well
known and accessible. Who is chosen from each side, conservative and liberal, is
not what is important. Rather, it is their differentially contextualized and
interpreted views of the speech.
The video segment from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart does not have
any publicly available transcripts. This will not be transcribed. Transcription is
often necessary to record and admit into evidence the conversation that is being
discussed. However, transcription presents several theoretical and ideological
issues. How a transcript is created is itself a contextualized interpretation of the
event, involving layers of meaning and contextual variables. Seeing as this text,
this comedy program, already exist in a documented publicly available format, on
video, it will remain only as such. Margaret Ann Luebs, who has been regularly
cited as the key source on transcription within sociolinguistics and linguistic
anthropology, asserts that transcription is anything but straightforward (1996,
p.326). Transcription is interpretation. With using videos, there arise issues of
how to record and interpret not only words and intonations, but also movements
and gestures. Transcribing the video would not only be an interpretation of words
and intonations, but an ideological decision of the value of gestures and nuanced
movements. Rather than making ideological decisions on how to transcribe these
speeches, leaving a concrete textual document of the occurrences that could
hinder future evaluation, decision has been made to leave the video as a record of
itself. Rather than dealing with more layers of meaning and interpretation, the
original will be enlisted as textual evidence. Rather than adding more levels of
possible meaning, the video will be taken as is, and left as a record.
The transcription of a complex video-media program such as The Daily
Show would deserve detailed explanation, in depth research on transcription, and
extensive explanation of ideological and pragmatic concerns and decisions related
to its transcription. With satire and humor ingrained into the creation and
production of this audio-visual performance, transcription of this episode would
entail making ideological decisions of the importance of tonal variance, whose
voice is presented first when two people speak at the same time, how to relay
visual aspects, et cetera. In a sense, it would obscure some of the benefits of the
joking framework. The transcript itself may align interpretations. It may not
adequately convey the negotiation of boundaries and conflict. Possibilities of
differential spelling and dual meanings may be overlooked. Nuances and different
meanings may not be caught and recorded, and even if they are, the records may
not adequately transfer nuances to readers. There are differential evaluations and
interpretations of the debates. The commentaries show that. However, in
evaluating the possibility of a less ambiguous fixing of meaning in terms of the
episode on The Daily Show, it seems necessary to enlist the original audio-visual
program in order not to skew the interpretive possibilities.
The debate and its commentaries offer the framing of meaning: the fixing
of meanings of words, priorities, issues, contexts, and identities. Commentaries
differentially construct what it means to win, what is important, what it looks
like to be secure, what it means to send mixed messages, and who these
candidates have shown themselves to be. Another benefit of the debate format is
that it offers a form of interactive response that mimics conversation. Although
this was not amongst the original preferences, it provides a parallel to medias
bestowal of meaning. There is the illusion of a conversation, but no
communication or interaction is allowed. The debate does offer space for one
rebuttal, or defense, no matter how incomplete this may be, which is generally
more than a consumer gets from the media, but there is no actual interpersonal
address between candidates, nor a conversation. Rather there is answer, short
rebuttal, and next question. Additional responses to previous questions are
sometimes slipped in with the next response.
The analysis will use insights and methods from deconstruction, discourse
analysis, and thick description to explore joking in terms of media and politics.
The first section will look at the original speech or debate. It will examine the
contexts of the speech, and the possible meanings and constructs produced. The
examination of the speech will help determine a layer of context and meaning. It
will also provide a demonstration of the ambiguity present in communication.
Next, the commentaries will be examined, including interpretations and spin.
Finally, the commentary by Jon Stewart, within a joking framework will be
The debate will be examined for layers of meaning and the effects of
contextual variance on interpretation. It will also be examined for possible context
brought to the speech. Layers of meaning and context will be examined in line
with Derrida (1981). This will evoke the context in which it is told, the context of
the speaker, the meaning intended by the speaker, the interpretation by the hearer,
the meaning perceived by the hearer, the context of the hearer, and the context in
which it is heard. Deconstruction will provide a view of possible constructions of
meaning. As Norrick has brought to light, context will include aspects such as:
the physical setting, the participants, and their reasons for being together.. .the
emotional atmosphere [and extending as well into] social roles the participants
present and their interrelations along with their cultural lore about places, customs
and interactions... (1993, p.4).
The second section will examine the commentaries. It will look at the
differential interpretation of the speech, and the possible contexts from which
these interpretations arise. The commentators are attempting to fix the meaning of
the speech for their viewers, to interpret the speech for their listeners. This section
will examine what was said about the speech. It will also explore the flaws in the
fixing of meaning and show how audiences might interpret the commentaries.
This will demonstrate another layer of ambiguity within meaning production.
In the next section, the commentary framed within a joking framework
will be examined. It will be examined for context and the fixing of meaning. It
will explore how a joking structure is used to interpret and convey meaning. It
will also highlight allusions, structures, and contexts. This section will also
explore how this commentary is different than the previous serious ones.
ANALYSIS OF TEXTS
My research will explore how a joking framework can make meaning less
ambiguous, specifically to a broad audience via the media. The ambiguity
inherent in language can created misunderstandings and division, perhaps even
violence. Political discourse is a poignant example of this. After a politician's
speech, both sides weigh in on what was said and what it means. Often fixing the
meaning of what was said in different ways, each side differentially interprets the
event. This research seeks to explore one way in which understanding and shared
meaning making might be created.
Media communication has been shown as a fashioning of reality; a
separation from the real; and an implementation of values, aspirations and fears.
There is no room, no avenue for an exchange, a response, or interactive
communicative meaning making. The media fixes the meaning of words, people,
and events, bestowing an interpretation onto its viewers.
Joking framework offers resources for mitigating the non-interactive
bestowal of meaning. Revealing assumptions, allusions, intent, and even
meanings beyond intent, allows joking to assert effect on media communication.
Through a joking framework the ambiguity present in language can be made less
ambiguous, and interpretations can become active.
Ambiguity of Meaning
First, the debate and its ambiguous communication of meaning through
language will be examined. The goal is not to say what this means, or what it
should mean, but that it does mean different things to different people from
different contexts. Whether or not there is one correct interpretation is not the
issue. The issue is that it is interpreted different ways. The goal is not to kill or
discredit interpretations, but rather to show possibilities for increased shared
understanding. There is much material presented in the debate itself. This will
begin with the second question of the debate, because it produced one of the
gaffes Jon Stewart2 3 used in his program.
The Second Question in the Debate
This is a look at the second question in the debate, which is directed at
President Bush The question itself is Do you believe the election of Senator
Kerry4 on November the 2nd would increase the chance of the U.S. being hit by
another 9/11-type terrorist attack? (Appendix A, p.76). This question could be
directed at Kerrys character, his policy, or his flaws. Or, it could be taken as an
impossibility: Bush responds No, I dont believe its going to happen
(Appendix A, p.76). One line in to a possible two minutes of response and
contextual variants of viewers could be creating a multivalence of interpretations.
He could be characterized as cocky, arrogant. Perhaps supporters would see this
as steadfast and resolved, knowledgeable in what the country and the world need,
2 Jon Stewart is the host of The Daily Show, a satire based news program on the Comedy Central
3 President George W. Bush (Republican) is the 43rd President of the United States of America,
from 2001-2009. At the time of this debate he is campaigning for a second term.
4 Senator John Kerry (Democrat) is a senator from Massachusetts, 1984-present (as of 2011), and
candidate for the presidency in 2004.
and want. Conspiracy theorists may see this as an announcement of the rigging of
the election, or the installing of a dictatorship.
He goes on to give reasons to support his claim. These include: I know
how to lead; he makes tough decisions that people do not always agree with, but
people know where I stand. His assertion seems to assume that strong
convictions are more important than right decisions. It could also back a status
quo complacency that knowing what youre getting, even if something might be
better, is preferable to risking the unknown, which could end up being worse.
Perhaps people will be receptive, knowing that the decisions are tough and there
are no easy answers, seeing him as making the tough calls knowing they are tough
calls. Or it could be characterized as the avoidance of the question.
Bush goes on to say that the nation has the solemn duty to defeat the
ideology of hate (Appendix A, p.76). Most people could agree that hate is not
desirable, and detrimental to attaining peace. From the dualistic definition of
terms such as good and bad, love and hate, the prospect of hate is undesirable
by definition. Consequently, Bushs statement could be seen as obvious. Of
course the ideology of hate must be defeated. Its presence will aid in violence and
hinder peace. For others, this is just one more example of the United States
forcing its ideology onto the world. And doing so through a manner of violence. It
is one more United States, holier than thou, policing of the world.
In explaining the ideology of hate, Bush states those who embrace this
ideology are killers. They are killers who have killed here in the U.S.; killers who
kill children in Russia and led attacks in Iraq. Bush suggests they can only be
defeated by staying on the offensive. What about hate here at home? There is
plenty of hate, and hate killings in the United States. The discussion is on foreign
policy, but the creation of an us v. them categorization in terms of an
ideology that cannot be relegated solely to terrorists seems misleading. In other
words, projecting an ideology of hate solely to one community that is in
opposition to the United States demonstrates a biased approach attempting to fix
the meaning of events and people to an audience. The offensive strategy to rid the
world of this ideology seems to be to kill the killers, and in doing so spread
liberty. Through violence and domination liberty will be spread?
From different backgrounds and contexts, even the word duty raises
questions. For some, duty is simply what must be done without question. Many
religious ideologies and ideological loyalties to philosophers such as Kant, view
duty as a necessity; it is what must be done despite desire or self interest. It is not
about personal needs and desires anymore. It is about something bigger,
something more important. People situated in a post-modern framework might
view the word duty in a very different way. It could be seen as the authoritarian
powers desire or ideological conviction. It could be seen as a precept put forth
with no backing, to be followed merely because of the assertion of duty. Calling
something a duty does not make a duty. But within some contexts, it being a
duty does not make it unquestionable or necessarily the proper thing to be
doing. Bush could be seen as fallaciously arguing from an appeal to authority,
whether his own or one higher.
Bush insists that the United States must stay on the offensive and spread
liberty. Pacifists and those who believe in non-violence are quick to question his
intent. Even the idea of spreading liberty can be plagued with notions of western
colonialism, violent ideology spreading, elitism, egocentrism, and western and
civilized superiority. One of the issues as well is an ideology based on black
and white, versus that which possesses shades of grey. For those whose ideology
is based on a dualist, one or the other, sort of mentality, Kerry falls short as an
option for president. Not only is he verbose and rhetorically diverse, which can
lead to notions of trickery and deception, but he is characterized as a flip-
flopper. There is no room for a flip-flopper in a black and white ideology. Not
only does the indecision suggest uncertain convictions, it could reveal relativism.
Relativism, besides being frowned upon by religions such as Christianity, could
be seen, fallaciously, as a slippery slope to immorality. In an ideology that sees in
shades of gray, the term itself could be a misnomer. There could be subtleties of
views and decisions that are not easily expressible to someone listening for
Kerry responds with personal character accolades, emotion, and policy.
He begins with I believe in being strong and resolute and determined, and I will
hunt down and kill the terrorists (Appendix A, p.76). This could produce an
array of interpretations of meaning. He could have responded to the actual
question, and how he might decrease possibilities for another terrorist attack.
Rather, he made an appeal to his qualifications, followed by missteps by the
president. Kerry is not changing the terminology. Although he does not use the
ideology of hate, he talks about hunting and killing the terrorists. Pacifists are
not going to be happy with Kerry either. Although he talks about being smart in
policies and strategies, he has the same mission: hunt and kill the terrorists.
Kerry could be seen as overcompensating in his personal accolades,
defending himself against insults only implied by Bush. Some people are not
convinced Kerry believes in anything. For the man who has been portrayed as
conviction-less to begin by saying I believe in, may say something about how
he wants to be perceived. However, he does not actively assert that he is these
things, strong and resolute and determined (Appendix A, p.76). Rather, he
believe[s] in being these things. Perhaps strong convictions and assertions about
the self will only lead to being called out as a hypocrite. This passive self-
assertion seems to reinforce an uncertainty in Kerrys convictions and underlying
These interpretations not only fix what was said, but affect the
interpretation of the character of the man saying them. Kerry could be seen as
calling Bush stupid, tactless. Kerry says, But we also have to be smart, Jim, and
smart means [...] (Appendix A, p.76). Smart means not doing what Bush has
done. In this instance, specifically, diverting attention from the real war on terror
[...] to Iraq (Appendix A, p.76-77). Kerry describes this as a colossal error in
judgment, and insists judgment is paramount to the presidency (Appendix A,
p.77). This could make Kerry seem cocky, egotistical, and ignorant of the
intricacies and difficulties associated with presidential decisions. Or it could be
seen as a valid critique of a president who prides himself on judgment and
Kerry ends his defense by listing people who support him, and his foreign
policy. He cites chairman, generals, and admirals. This could be seen as a quite
limited military backing, or as a support of intelligent military personal. It is
basically an argument from authority inserted into a discussion on Bushs errors.
In this exchange, Kerry can also be seen as blaming Bush for bin Ladens
escape. He shows support for and belief in American troops, while continuing to
disapprove of Bushs policies and choices. Although, this could also be seen as
disrespectful toward a president who admits a possibility for error amidst tough
decisions. Kerry goes on to say, The President relied on Afghan warlords that he
outsourced that job to. Thats wrong (Appendix A, p.77). A disregard of the U.S.
partners in Afghanistan, warlords or not, could be used to confirm Bushs
critique of Kerry not having what it takes to lead and bring on more allies. If he
cannot talk positively about the efforts made in Afghanistan, or the fight against
terror, how can he bolster support?
Despite critiques, Kerrys admission of wrong doing by the U.S. could be
seen as humility and a desire for change. Perhaps it shows that he has a plan, and
it is different. It might be more successful than the current approach, and Kerry
has the support of some military leaders. However, Kerry classifying Bush as
wrong may have caused more harm than insight. To call a president hailed for
his convictions and character wrong, may elicit an emotional response amongst
his supporters. If supporters possess a black-white worldview, calling the man
they believe in wrong will likely lead to the conclusion that the accuser is
indeed the one who is wrong.
Debate Question on Candidates
Candor and Consistency
Another question in the debate was on candidates candor and consistency.
This question was chosen because it deals with the issue of mixed messages,
and both campaigns are accusing the other of sending mixed messages. Bushs
campaign characterized Kerry as a flip-flopper. The Kerry campaign accuses
Bush of his policies and statements not matching what is actually happening. The
question is presented to Kerry. It is a statement requesting examples in defense
of the accusations against Bushs honesty. Give us some examples of what you
consider to be his not telling the truth (Appendix A, p.86).
Kerry begins by denying he would use the harshest word, presumably
lying. However, he does not hesitate to say, I think [the president] has not been
candid with the American people, and Ill tell you exactly how (Appendix A,
p.86). He is being passive in his accusations, toning down the language from
lying or even not telling the truth to not [being] candid. While being
passive in his attack against Bush, he asserts certainty, stating Ill tell you
Kerry is attacking Bush and lays out why. He accuses Bush of telling
Congress of nuclear materials that didnt exist, of promising a grand coalition,
and promising to exhaust UN remedies (Appendix A, p.86-87). Kerry accuses
Bush of sort of arbitrarily cutting off diplomacy, rushing into a war without a
plan. He says Bush promised careful planning and war as a last resort, but did
Part of the problem with these examples is they are all judgment calls.
What defines a grand coalition? There is no magical number. What is rushing
in, and how is that definition affected by unprecedented terror attacks having
been performed on the U.S.? Who decides when it is time to move onto the last
resort option? Yet, Kerry is likely trying to convey inconsistencies with the
president, and the lack of support from the rest of the world for the current
Kerry asserts that these decisions have affected the United States greatly
in the world. He states that he has worked with the leaders of the world, and for
longer than this President, and I know what many of them say today, and I know
how to bring them back to the table (Appendix A, p.87). However, some people
do not want to go back to the table. More allies is not the important factor.
Staying true to convictions does not always win friends.
Kerry goes on to talk about bin Laden using the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a
declaration of war on Islam. He comes back to talking about being smarter,
waging a smarter war. A perceived war on Islam is the wrong perception. Kerry
wants to make clear that how things have been does not have to be the case.
His closing statement of his argument he cites inspirations from both
parties: We need to rebuild our alliances. I believe that Ronald Reagan, John
Kennedy, and others did that more effectively, and Im going to try to follow in
their footsteps (Appendix A, p.87). It seems like an attempt to cross political
lines, to show that disagreeing with Bush does not have to be a solely Democrat
Bushs response ignores any challenges presented against him. It beings:
My opponent just said something amazing. He said Usama bin
Laden uses the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for
America. Usama bin Laden isnt going to determine how we
defend ourselves. Usama bin Laden doesnt get to decide. The
American people decide. I decide. The right action was in Iraq.
(Appendix A, p.87)
Technically, Kerry never mentioned spread hate. This ties right in with Bushs
emphasis on the ideology of hate. It is an emotional plea, almost fear
mongering. There might indeed be things to be afraid of. However, for Bush it is
this ideology of hate. Kerry, rather, is more concerned with the perception of
the United States, the perception of an Iraq invasion as declaring] war on Islam
(Appendix A, p.87). Bush insists no one will tell America how to defend itself. He
does state that the American people decide, but this is quickly followed and
perhaps over shadowed by the assertion I decide (Appendix A, p.87). There is
no talk about why the war was the right decision, but simply that he decides what
right is, at least in this case.
The next segment is an attack on Kerry. Bush asserts Iraq was not a
mistake. He equates his misleading in Iraq with Iraq being a threat. Stating:
My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn't a mistake. He said I
misled on Iraq. I don't think he was misleading when he called Iraq
a grave threat in the fall of 2002.1 don't think he was misleading
when he said that it was right to disarm Iraq in the spring of 2003.1
don't think he misled you when he said that ifanyone who
doubted whether the world was better off without Saddam Hussein
in power didn't have the judgment to be President. I don't think he
was misleading. I think what is misleading is to say you can lead
and succeed in Iraq if you keep changing your positions on this
war, and he has. As the politics change, his positions change, and
that's not how a Commander in Chief acts. (Appendix A, p.87)
Bush skirts the accusations against him. Rather, he puts the focus on Kerry, and
Kerrys possible inconsistency in terms of Iraq. Bush continually talks about
Kerry changing positions, but refuses to acknowledge Kerrys internal conflict.
For Kerry, Iraq was not part of the war on terror. It was a threat, but how the
invasion was executed and defended was in a sense illegitimate. However, Bush
seems to possess an us vs. them position. Being against the execution of the war
equates to being against the principles that lead to the decision, the troops
carrying out that decision, and the unwavering conviction of defeating an
ideology of hate.
The debate was ninety minutes and possesses too much information for
every detail to be acknowledged and analyzed. At this point, what was said seems
of little importance. There is no way to distill authorial intent, and impact exceeds
intent. Even when you look at the source interpretations arent simple. They are
still the offspring of a complex web of personal contexts, including those of the
author, presenter, and audience. Even just looking at what is said versus what is
not said, what is avoided and what is engaged, could produce another layer of
meaning and interpretation that may not result in the same conclusions. What
does the speaker mean? With a Derridean overlay, this seems to become the
wrong question. It is about the mutual production of meaning. The speaker's
intent is a contextual overlay on interpretation and meaning as is the audiences
interpretation. It becomes a shared pursuit in understanding, involving all parties.
This also exposes the importance of the audience and their contextual overlay in
the production of meaning and understanding.
Interpretation and the Fixing of Meaning
Discourse analysis is a subjective activity. Exploring a non-objective,
contextually and historically situated, embedded, understanding of language
cannot offer a complete view. However, the goal is to offer a differential view. To
show a multivalence in meaning that is already present. Although it cannot
acknowledge or explore every possibility, it seeks to provide insight into
possibilities, and an option for a better mutual understanding, an avenue for
shared meaning making.
The first commentary being looked at is the spin from MSNBC. The
second will be from Fox News. Colloquially, MSNBC is considered a more
liberal news source, with Fox News being a conservative news source. This
should provide a broad spectrum of interpretation and meaning fixing within the
media. Each spin puts forth an interpretation of what happened, taking what
was ambiguous and fixing its meaning.
Both MSNBC and Fox News interviewed correspondents from different
viewpoints. In an attempt to presumably seem more objective, the two news
programs offer spin from campaign correspondents on each of the political
parties involved. However, each station only uses the word spin when
introducing the correspondent from the non-associated political party. Fox uses
the word spin when introducing the correspondent from the Kerry campaign,
and MSNBC when introducing the Bush correspondent.
The spin will be examined in two ways. It will be looked at first for how
it fixes the meaning of the debate, and second for how it can add another layer of
interpretation and contextual overlay. The entire newscast will not be examined,
for the spin offers a blatant look into how ambiguous meaning is fixed for an
The examination of the spin, which is basically each party framing the
speech, and fixing its meaning, in a way that is beneficial to them and their
candidate, will look at the Democrat interviewed by MSNBC and the Republican
interviewed by Fox News. This will be done for a couple reasons. First, there is a
chance that they would attempt to find extreme examples of spin from the
opposing party to discredit them. I am not saying this is the case, but it seems
that there are less possible issues with looking at the party to which the news
outlet seems to lean toward. Whether they are more or less spun than their
counterpart on the opposing network, they are presented more as factual. It is this
type of interpretation and bestowal of meaning that this research is to focus on.
It is important to establish general contexts from which the debate is being
evaluated. To assume two absolute-coherent positions, one liberal and one
conservative, would deny the multivocality and contextual variance this research
has so far asserted and pursued. It would also deny common observation, which
can profess the presence of independents amongst others. However, there are two
main political parties, which have at least semi-congruent positions. Cognitive
scientist George Lakoff outlines generalities of liberal and conservative positions
and contexts in his book Moral Politics. While acknowledging there are
variances, it is a good general look at possible interpretations and backgrounds
from which they emerge. Lakoff insists, words dont have meanings in isolation
(Lakoff 1996, p.29).
This is a brief explanation of possible contexts from which conservative
and liberal interpretations might arise. Liberals support social programs,
environmentalism, public education, equal rights, and are pro-choice.
Conservatives support capital punishment, prison funding, military funding,
decrease in regulatory industries, family values, and are pro-life. There are other
convictions, values, policies, issues, and varieties of beliefs. But these are among
those that divide the parties.
Lakoff explores ideological differences that could lead to the divide
between the political parties. The linguistic metaphor he puts forth is the
conservative as the strict father, and the liberal as the nurturing mother (Lakoff
1996). The values corresponding to this model show a conservative ideology
based in self-discipline, responsibility, self-reliance, reward and punishment, and
the protection of moral individuals (Lakoff 1996, p.163). The liberal ideology
instead focuses on empathy and fairness, help and protection for those who cannot
do so for themselves, promotion of fulfillment and self-nurturing (Lakoff 1996,
p.165). This is not to say that there is no overlap, but there are priorities.
Although such a model is not without controversy, especially in terms of
political ideology as a whole, it does describe some contextual variants present in
this western, American, political context. It provides, at least broad, groundings
for understanding the fixing of meaning in political commentaries, presented by
Spin and the Fixing of Meaningin one .v favor
MSNBCs Liberal Spin Fixing Meaning
MSNBC is situated on the liberal side of things, contextually. Their
interview with correspondent from the Kerry campaign is not introduced as
spin. In this interview, which is with Senator Joseph Biden5, the meaning of
winning, meanings of the debate, and character of candidates are fixed.
5 Joseph Biden (Democrat) is a Senator from Delaware. 1973-2009.
Biden starts off by insisting Kerry won the debate, and I am not just
spinning (Appendix B, p.l 12). He goes on to explain why Kerry won. This
includes he was resolute. He was clear. He was plain. The president was
repetitious, somewhat nervous (Appendix B, p.l 12). Winning was not just about
what Kerry did, or how he presented himself, but how he measured up against the
president. Biden goes on to address the ongoing accusation by the Bush campaign
that Kerry is a flip-flopper. Biden presents Kerry as doing a good job in terms of
redirecting the accusation onto Bush, who is sending mixed messages on Korea,
on Iraq, on Iran (Appendix B, p.l 12).
Along with asserting Kerrys resolve and consistency, Biden also points
out the presidents lack of response to charges against him. The president did not
address charges against policy choices with North Korea, nor did he account for
issues in Iraq. Bush characterized Kerry as a flip-flopper, but how can this be
valid from someone who will not respond to charges against him?
One of the issues Bush did not address, and Biden insists that the
president has squandered every opportunity to communicate, is long-term
ambitions in Iraq (Appendix B, p.l 12). Biden points out support of Kerrys
position by Republicans, such as Colin Powell and John McCain. This is a
position of clearly asserting the U.S. is not in Iraq as long-term occupiers and
making steps toward keeping that promise. Biden reinforces Kerrys positions as
correct, and beneficial. He once again addresses the claims against Kerry as a
flip-flopper. He firmly asserts that Kerry has not changed positions on the war
in Iraq, and that Bush is sending mixed messages. Not only is Bush sending
mixed messages to potential allies, but also to the Iraqi people, and even within
the views of his own administration. Besides having two different opinions
coming out of his administration, Powell versus Cheney-Rumsfeld, there are
competing numbers on the training of Iraqi troops, which is paramount to a U.S.
withdrawal. The president said 110,000, Rumsfeld said 90,000, and Biden asserts
only 8,000 of these troops have been fully trained. What fully trained means
is not defined in this interview, but used only to assert the presidents lack of
honesty. Biden is saying that the president is not only sending mixed messages, he
is misleading the country just as Kerry had suggested.
Fox News Conservative Spin Fixing Meaning
From the Republican spin, Bush won. Kerry lectured, and Bush talked to
people. Rudolph Giuliani6 provides the conservative correspondent for Fox News.
The important part of the debate from the conservative side is that John Kerry
contradicted himself. The designation of flip-flopper still holds strong and true.
Kerry was inconsistent as to whether or not Saddam was a threat.
Besides Kerry having no consistent position, Giuliani also accuses Kerry
of trying to work his way out of the question Is the war worth it? (Appendix
C, p. 120). Fie also says Kerry is telling the troops Youre fighting for the wrong
war in the wrong time in the wrong place, which according to Giuliani is Kerry
basically totally demeaning theirtheir sacrifice (Appendix C, p. 120).
Moving on to positives for Bush, Giuliani credits him with having and
putting forth a clear plan for the war in Iraq, while Kerry ignored the question.
This is followed by a defense of Bushs plan in Iraq, including a very realistic
and honest timetable, focused on the goal of creating maintainable stability in
Iraq. With the focus on policy, Giuliani also touts Bushs foreign policy in terms
of North Korea, and the benefits of using China in those talks.
6 Rudolph Giuliani (Republican) is the former mayor of New York City, 1994-2001.
From the Democrat side of things, Kerry is not a flip-flopper, and his
consistency is part of the reason he is the winner in the debate. From the
Republican side of things, part of the reason Bush is the winner because he did
not contradict himself, and unlike Kerry, he is not a flip-flopper. There are
competing messages on what happened, different interpretations of the situation,
its benefits and downfalls. Each party wants their candidate to be the winner and
to come out ahead in the polls. To do this, they attempt to make what their
candidate did and said acceptable, if not desirable, to the voting population. They
also demonstrate how the other candidate fell short. Two of the main charges in
the campaign are that Kerry is a flip-flopper and that Bush made a mistake in
how he handled going to war in Iraq and how he is handling the war. Kerrys
inconsistencies are used to portray him as untrustworthy, lacking conviction,
incapable of leading, and without a plan. Bushs handling of the war is used to
demonstrate his lack of concern toward allies, and lack of response to charges
Spin and Ambiguity: Challenging the spin
and its construction of reality
The ambiguity in meaning associated with the debate itself can also be
seen in the commentaries. Different viewpoints will have different reactions to
and interpretations of the commentaries. Two viewers listen to the same speech,
or in this case the same debate, and they interpret what happened, and who the
candidates are, differently. They listen to each others interpretations of the
speech and speakers, and their ideological and political convictions reveal
incompatibilities that can result in unintelligibility to others. In Moral Politics,
George Lakoff (2002) describes reasons for these incompatibilities between
liberal and conservative ideologies. Basic assumptions as to ones position in the
world, how one is to operate within it, and how one is to react to others around
them affect how one interprets discourse.
Fox News and the Republican Spin
As stated before, Fox News interviews Rudy Giuliani as their Republican
spokesperson. He characterized each candidate, put forth goals they were trying to
reach, shortcomings in their presentations, and emphasized key issues. He
characterized John Kerry as lecturing, while the president simply talked to
people. Giuliani puts forth that Kerry was trying to accomplish something along
the lines of what the president did, by talking to people. He believes Kerry moved
in that direction and got more folksy.
From a conservative background, especially from a middle-class mid-
western context, Bushs talking to the people is very important. For some it might
even be more important than his policies. He speaks plainly and simply. It seems
easy to understand what he is saying. Not necessarily revealed in this instance, but
in others, his convictions have proven steadfast and strong. Agree with him or not,
he is making hard decisions and he is doing his best. For some, religion has taught
that trust and faith are important. Bush can be seen as having earned that trust.
Kerry is lecturing like adults do to a kid, not talking with them but talking to
them. Or he could be viewed as too academic and inaccessible.
From a more liberal side of things, who Bush is as a person is less
important than what he does policy-wise, at least in terms of this debate.
Although, what he does policy-wise also affects how he is viewed as a person.
Perhaps Kerry is lecturing. Lecturing does not have to be a bad thing. There are
many informative lectures, where the professors are knowledgeable and
instructive. Kerry seems intelligent, and as though he has really thought through
Giuliani goes on to say his biggest issue was that John Kerry contradicted
himself. This is a theme for the Republican Party, and the campaign. In this
instance the contradiction was about whether or not Saddam Hussein was a threat.
Giuliani marks this as a shortcoming and a downfall of Kerry. He frames the issue
as Kerry trying to work his way out of Is the war worth it? He characterizes
Kerry as having no consistent position. And, his disagreement with the war
demeans the sacrifices of the soldiers who have fought there.
Conservative ideology is often joined with a black-and-white worldview.
In Lakoff s book Moral Politics (2002) categorizes conservative ideology in
terms of a strict father. Either way, there is no room for contradiction, for this
shows a lapse in ethical ideals and steadfast morals. It cant be both ways, it cant
be a thing and also its opposite. To fall into relativism is unacceptable. It can be
seen as a slippery slope to a lack of all moral standards, and an anything goes
mentality. To say that Saddam Hussein is a threat and is not a threat shows a lack
of conviction, a lack of principle, a lack of knowledge, and makes the viewer
question if Kerry believes in anything absolutely or if all is subject to whim. Also,
Kerry takes issue with the war. Why elect a president in a time of war who does
not agree with the war? Not that error cannot be made, but the war is/can be
justified. Why discredit the war, sacrifice, and the decisions of this country when
its people can stay steadfast in their convictions?
From a different worldview, Kerrys contradictions could show
intelligence and ethical maturity. Viewed from a background in philosophy, it
might show that not only does he understand different aspects of war and policy,
he understands that the way things are talked about is not necessarily objective. In
some sense Saddam is a threat, but in the sense he was declared a threat for the
war and invasion of Iraqhe was not that kind of threat. Also, ethical maturity
displayed by a situational, particular, post-conventional ethic, could manifest
itself in the ways Kerry has contradicted himself. As far as working his way out of
the war being worth it, hes a soldier from Vietnam, it seems reasonable that he
would always question the necessity and purpose of war. He might not agree with
how the war has been carried out, but that doesnt mean he does not support the
purpose or the soldiers.
Ideas that can be linked to support the troops, such as supporting the
war, might have inherent meaning to specific groups of people. However, the
point is that its not liked to language, but to context and culture. To some it might
mean more money and better artillery, or it might mean to bring them home. One
should not assume that others know what they mean, that someone else has the
same underlying meaning for words, phrases, or even convictions. Some word or
phrase meanings transcend political lines, geographic areas, and social classes.
Im not contending with that. However, there is ambiguity in language and these
gaps are often filled in by context.
Giulianis next response is in regards to plans to win and get American
troops out of Iraq. He thinks Kerry avoided the question and the president gave a
clear description of his plan. In agreement with Giuliani, troops are being trained,
and there are goals rather than timetables. The creation of a democratic and stable
Iraq is good for Iraq and for the world. On the other side of things, the United
States is essentially occupying Iraq with no timetable for leaving. They could be
installing a puppet government. There have been different numbers given for how
many troops are trained and different estimates on how successful they will be
without the U.S. present.
The final interchange with Giuliani is about foreign policy. The question
evokes the notion of the president being strong and resolute on principals and core
convictions, and asks about his breadth of foreign policy. Giuliani uses North
Korea to demonstrate the president having command of the facts. Giuliani
admits to his bias, agreeing with the presidents pursuit of foreign policy in North
Korea, and suggesting the president possesses a subtlety of thinking about
foreign policy that he very often isnt given the credit for.
A simple minded conservative7 would likely admit they do not know what
is best when it comes to foreign policy, nor do they have all the facts. They want a
president with character and convictions they can trust. If they trust who he is as a
person, they might not always agree with him, but they trust he will do his best.
From the liberal side, chances are the candidates disagree on the policy
because anything brought up in the debate was meant to be a point of difference
and to clarify the positions of the two candidates. It is also not necessarily about
trusting the character of the person. Although some undoubtedly find this
important, it is also about the perception of the U.S. around the world. Bush talks
about keeping America safe at any cost. Kerry cares about how America appears
to the rest of the world. It is not that safety is not important, but that safety and
peace necessitate support and alliances. It can be a denial of the egocentric,
ethnocentric, empire mentality the U.S. as world police can conjure.
MSNBC and the Democrat Spin
MSNBC goes to Democrat Joseph Biden for the delineation of events. He
asserts a winner, gives his candidate accolades in terms of character and
performance, and reverses the charges against Kerry. The interchange begins with
the question of who won. Bidens response is I dont think theres any question
who won. I think Kerry won, and Im not just spinning.
71 am not saying conservatives are simple minded but that there are simple minded people and
some of them are conservatives, that is a contextual perspective.
Critiques of Biden could come from either side, although Democrats are
likely to cheer him on because they want him to be correct. However, anyone who
has to say they are not spinning, insist upon it, seems in question, as if they are
coming from a place where they are trying to justify themselves. Each party
seems to think their candidate won. They are defining win in different ways.
This is played upon in the Daily Shows rendition of commentary, to be discussed
What is said next could be taken as definition of what Kerry winning
meant. He is described as resolute, clear, and plain versus the repetitious and
nervous president. This is followed up immediately by a discussion on flip-
flopping which was a long-standing charge against Kerry. Someone could easily
argue that their perspective on Kerry in the debate was not clear or plain or
resolute, but aloof and academic and inconsistent.
Once again the charges of Kerry being inconsistent or a flip-flopper are
brought forth. Although this time, rather than focusing on verbal inconsistencies
that Kerry is accused of, the focus is on the policy and practice inconsistencies of
the president. Biden accuses the president of not responding to charges Kerry
made against him, including charges about Halliburton8 and it benefiting from the
For a Bush supporter, the president should not have to respond to these
questions and charges. He is doing the best he can and its tough. They have done
a good job of framing Kerry as not understanding the facts, the war, and the needs
of the country. Kerry is a pesky questioning child who does not understand what
is necessary, beneficial. Or perhaps he is the questioning professor who is too
s Halliburton is an oil and gas company, based in the US, but operating internationally. Bushs
vice president, Dick Cheney, was its CEO from 1995-2000.
stuck on the details to understand the big picture. Kerry is caught up on
Halliburton, and missing the necessity of the war for the countrys safety.
Or perhaps, Biden is right. The president is executing a war on a long-
standing enemy that possesses something desirable, oil, with no exit strategy.
Perhaps he is not being held accountable for what he says he is doing, or what he
insists needs to be done. Kerry is trying to make the president live up to his actual
record, and not just his popularity in a time of crisis. He wants to know where the
money is, how its being spent, what benefits it has produced, why decisions were
made, not just that they were difficult, and why there is no clear plan on what can
be perceived as long-term ambitions in Iraq.
Biden continues to bring in policy issues, emphasizing that members of
Bushs own party dont agree with him on his policy, specifically in how things
have played out in Iraq. Biden goes on to insist that Kerry has not changed
positions, despite being labeled as a flip-flopper, and that Bush continues to send
mixed messages; mix messages about treaties, allies, and Iraqi sovereignty. Biden
also questions the numbers given as facts specifically in terms to Iraqi troops
that have been trained.
The Republicans could see this affront as a non-issue. By this point in the
conversation, it has become an us against them. The Republicans might feel as
though they must stand together, no matter their differences and fight this affront.
This arises out of is the denial of Kerry as a flip-flopper, which simply is not the
case. Therefore, why bother listening any further when they have already denied
what some Republicans know to be true? But if one does listen to the whole
conversation, one would be upset that they pitted the Republican Party against
itself. Of course there are differences, but chances are those in the party are still
going to vote for Bush even if they do not agree with him on everything, so why
is this a point for Kerry? Bush is doing what he can to keep the country safe. He
has more intel than regular citizens, higher security clearance. Plus, there have
been so many different numbers when it comes to Iraq and training of troops, and
definitions of what trained troops means, who is to be trusted? Well, Bush has
proven himself as a man of character and principle. What more is there to say?
From the point of view of a Democrat, perhaps Kerry has not changed
positions, but that is not the perception. Thus, the perception needs to be
challenged and then the misnomer dissolved or transferred as they are
attempting to do. However, it does seem to be the case that Bush is not being
consistent and changing his mind on what he wants or thinks should be done. The
inconsistency of the reported facts in Iraq is also disconcerting. How can
Bushs claims for intentions by trusted when he ignores questions about issues in
Iraq and Halliburton and he cannot provide a definite answer for where our
progress stands in Iraq? It is foreseeable that Iraq and other countries in the world
could see this as a long-term occupation and even takeover. Perhaps Bush is being
true to his convictions and doing whatever it takes: that does not make it okay.
ConclusionFlaws In Fixing Of Meaning
These interpretations are subjective. But they are far from fringe
interpretations of events. The point in all of this is to show clearly that
interpretations of the same linguistic occurrence are present and differential. They
are based in peoples affiliations and backgrounds, their often-different
convictions and principles. Ideologies, religion, education, worldview,
relationships, et cetera, influence how a person processes and interprets given
information. These differences can lead to incompatibilities and an inability to
understand others viewpoints.
What is important here is not whom one agrees with or whose
interpretation may be more accurate. Rather, the thing to realize is that there are
multiple interpretations, based on the same event. The event itself produces
ambiguous meaning, and the media then attempts to fix that meaning. Each news
station seems to offer different ways to fix that meaning. But in the end, there are
still competing analyses of the event, not one that acknowledges ambiguity and
acknowledges the truth and benefits of each side.
Joking and the Fixing of Meaning
So far, this research has attempted to show ambiguity in meaning and the
attempts to fix that meaning. The result has been differential interpretation of the
same linguistic occurrence, and layers of meaning. Now a commentary on the
debate, situated within a joking framework, will be examined.
The Daily Show and Spin Both Ways
On the episode of The Daily Show, episode 9040, Jon Stewart also
interviews spokespeople from each party. They are similar in position and place
to those on the other news networks. One of them is the same individual. Rudolph
Giuliani, who spoke with Fox News, also spoke with Jon Stewart on The Daily
Show. The spin was much the same as on the other networks coverage. Both
sides think it went very well. The Democrats think Kerry was confident, prepared,
decisive, and direct, compared to a fumbling, annoyed, arrogant, unsure of
himself President Bush. For the Republicans, Kerry cannot define himself or stay
How the two typical news programs and the Daily Show vary is more
apparent in other aspects of the presentation, talking to correspondents, decisions
on what to focus on, the framing of the speech, et cetera. However, even in this
section there are marked differences. One of the benefits of the Daily Show is that
they can be expected to ask both hard and ridiculous questions, or at least
question the delegates in ways that may presently reveal their biases and
When interviewing the Democratic spokesman Gen. Wesley Clark9, Jon
Stewart brings Clarks primary race against Kerry into the picture. He basically
says that Clark did not think Kerry was right for the job, running against him. He
also exposes the nature of spin alley, and how the team of whoever might have
lost might be working and what they might be looking for in their analysis and
interpretation of the event. Jon Stewart also adds jokes about Bushs finer
qualities. The joke is about what won for him in 2000, this being fumbling,
annoyed, arrogant, and unsure of himself. Stewart also plays off of news networks
commentary on stature and stance, using physical appearance and physique as a
part of their interpretation of events: he jokes about Kerry not being as tan as he
With Giuliani, he used less humor, but continued asking perhaps
inappropriate questions. He questions Giulianis comments, offering different
frames in which to interpret the information. He used phrases like Now, I was
watching and it seemed like he said and could have been my TV and
again.. .you know.. .1 hate to harp on it but dont you think what he believes is
The news media spins what happened to fit their agenda. This does not
exclude The Daily Show, which also possesses political biases, contexts, and
target audiences. However, at least joking allows for a deeper understanding of
context, points out misconceptions, and offers differential interpretation. Overall,
the campaign correspondents that were interviewed on The Daily Show did much
of the same spinning as on other networks. The difference was Jon Stewart was
9 General Wesley Clark (Democrat) is a former US Army General, and a candidate in the
primaries for the presidency in 2004.
able to produce a program that could be viewed as both serious and satirical,
informative and ridiculous, offering allusions and humor to expose contextual
bearing, shortcomings, and interpretations of the event.
Jon Stewarts Broadcastin a joking framework
The commentary done by Jon Stewart, situated within a joking framework,
reveals more benefits of this framework. The program alluded to much of the
structure of the other commentaries. There were correspondents as well as people
in spin alley. There were discussions on who won the debate, and what it meant
to win the debate. There was also a look at undecided voters, including a panel
or focus group. There were jokes thrown in to keep the mood light, or perhaps
remind people this is set within a joking framework. One such example was at the
beginning of the program, where they suggested the program title was supposed
to rhyme, but they were ill informed as to the pronunciation of the debates
location, Coral Gables. So rather than being pronounced the Squabble in Coral
Gobbles it is instead put forth as a mistake, and humorous in the fact that it was
supposed to be, even though its not. Jon Stewart also jokes about the half hour
gap between the debate and their coverage.
From establishing the mood and tone of what is to follow, Jon Stewart
goes to correspondent Stephen Colbert.10 He jokes about the debate itself. He
frames what happened as joust, each candidate taking jabs with tools from the
oratorical box. He then makes present the issues associated with the debate.
Jon Stewart interjects that it sounded more like parallel campaign speeches than
a debate. To which Colbert responds that in the next debate not only will they
not be allowed to talk to each other, but they will be in different rooms, in
10 Stephen Colbert was a correspondent for The Daily Show.
different states, in different languages. He asserts that his next debate should
be decisive, or the third one.
Jon Stewart also interviews Ed Helms11 and Rob Corddry.12 This segment
with Daily Show correspondents from the competing campaigns addresses what it
means to win. This includes the Republican correspondent, Rob Corddry,
declaring orgasmic triumph and the Democrat correspondent, Ed Helms,
feel[ing] ecstatic about the outcome of the debate. They go on to declare why
each candidate should be declared the winner. This included the president holding
his own against a golden tongued virtuoso of words and the Senator holding his
own against the man even he is going to vote for.
This brings to light not only that the debate lacks qualities of a debate, but
also that the debate lacks decisive power. This is explored further in the program
by Samantha Bees13 panel of undecided voters. The question being asked is
Who are these people? The first man interviewed insists he is weighing
complex issues and is confused. Once the panel is assembled, the people cannot
even choose their seats. Samantha Bee gets fed up and wonders how they can
even dress themselves. Her tirade includes her yelling about how very different
the candidates are, so very different, and how can you not decide? This alludes
to the conclusions of the news programs that the debates will have little effect in
the polls. Fox News concluded the polls would narrow slightly or even that the
effects would be probably none (Appendix C, p.124). MSNBC concludes their
program by introducing the following coverage, which is an interview with
undecided voters. Samantha Bee highlights that there are two distinct visions for
the country and the future, something that does not seem to need the debates for
1 Ed Helms was a correspondent for The Daily Show.
l: Rob Corddry was a correspondent for The Daily Show.
13 Samantha Bee was a correspondent for The Daily Show.
Jon Stewart also played off the typical search for gaffes. Although there
may not have been many blunders, there were comments that could be interpreted
in a diverse manner. This could also be used to highlight issues and concerns with
lines being taken out of context. He played off of Bush's response to whether
there would be an increased chance of another 9/11 like terror attack if Kerry
were elected. The response was, I dont believe it's going to happen. Jon
Stewart jokes that the president is alluding to the fact that there is not going to be
an election. He is playing off the possibilities for multiple interpretations of the
same response. Depending on ones context, this interpretation may be plausible
to someone, especially if that someone has a tendency toward conspiracy theory.
Bushs plan for success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to want to take matters into
their own hands and defend themselves. Jon Stewart remarks, I think thats kind
of the problem. The plan for success is the very thing that helped create the
problem. The issue is more complex than that, and this is a joke. That does not
mean it is untrue, and it helps reveal part of a complex and multifaceted issue.
The goal is not to say this is the way it is without question, but to raise the
question, to expose aspects and error. This is shown in Bushs comment about the
evil were up against. He classifies them as a group of folks. The joke is that
a group of folks is whom you run into at Olive Garden. This could raise
question on Bushs thoughtfulness on the issue, his intelligence, his true beliefs
about these people, his ability to think on his feet. It could also be used to show
that he is a plain and simple man who talks like many voters.
Stewart also jokes about how answers can be turned around against the
speaker. Kerry talks about Bush dropping the ball domestically, on how cargo is
not x-rayed at ports or on airplanes. Then he asks, Does that make you feel
safer? Stewarts response is, Not anymore, thanks a lot. This may be silly to
show how you can frame an accusation against Bushs security policies as an
affront to Kerry, but it is an obvious example that can raise questions about how
less obvious interpretations may be tainted with the same type of judgment.
One issue going around in the news programs was the physical appearance
of the candidates. Bush was characterized as looking annoyed, bored, and tired
(Appendix C, p. 117-118). Kerry was said to look in command (Appendix C,
p. 118). They also spoke about how the split screen view provided an advantage
for Kerry, who is taller and fills up the screen more (Appendix C, p. 118). Kerry is
even commended for standing up straight (Appendix B, p. 105). As
aforementioned, Jon Stewarts remark on the physical appearance was humorous,
but revealing, He's not as tan as I expected. He is playing off of an aspect of the
debate that is used and addressed as being important, and yet in some sense it is
ridiculous. Those who do the analysis are creating the perceived identity of these
men. From a Derridean viewpoint, whether or not levels of jokes or allusions are
intended makes no difference. These layers are part of the contextual meaning
that goes beyond pure intent, and includes underlying forces like habitus and
In the vein of physical appearance, one might say John Kerry is not an
attractive man, or his face is too stem. This could be used against him. It could
also be classified as not necessary to lead or ridiculous, trivial, and
discriminatory. What about having the appearance of being composed and in
control? What about intelligence, standing up straight, eloquence, etiquette,
coalition building, arrogance, or decisiveness? Who decides what is important,
and what to focus on? The media weighs in. Joking allows for weighing in on
what may or may not be important, without making the final decision. It brings it
to the forefront for consideration.
The program is harsher toward Bush. The Daily Show is broadcast on
Comedy Central, which can be seen as a more liberal station. Shared context and
ideology helps in the conveying and understanding of joking. It would make sense
that the program would have a more focused target audience than the entire
nation. Along with Lakoff s (2002) characterization of the strict father, joking
about politics does not seem inline with conservative ideology, which offers a
serious way of dealing with an interpreting the world.
The Daily Show revealed problems with the structure of the debate, citing
it as parallel campaign speeches. It also played off of the pursuit of framing
ones candidate as the winner. This involved a segment with Ed Helms and Rob
Corddry descending into ridiculousness, but differentially defining winning so
that each candidate was a success. The joking framework disclosed some of the
same issues deconstruction had previously revealed. Joking can expose
shortcomings, inconsistencies, competing meanings and expectations. Joking is
not a remedy. It is an exposition. It helps in the understanding of and in
difference. It demonstrates possibilities as well as failures and misconceptions.
The media fixes meaning without a necessary connection to reality or to
context. It is not that no connection exists, but rather that these connections are
not forthright. They also are not always the same. Different people fix meaning
differently. They filter ambiguity through their lenses, and sometimes see
different things. Not all joking offers the same benefits. However, it can help
bring to light power relationships, definitional variance and plays on words,
deferment of meaning and multivocality. It can reveal lenses the viewer did not
realize they were seeing through.
There are benefits and shortcomings of using a joking framework to aid in
communication, interpretation and understanding. Despite a search for a less
ambiguous transference for meaning, it seems that joking makes things more
ambiguous. However, along the lines of deconstruction and difference, the case
study shows joking making what was seen as unambiguous, ambiguous. It is from
this recognition of ambiguity that an actually less ambiguous meaning can be
shared. And this second unambiguous (actually just less ambiguous) meaning is
aided by the inclusion of contexts and alternative meanings, forcing a
conversational distilling of meaning.
Joking structures do not seem to increase understanding of intent.
Knowledge of intent seems unobtainable. Even if it was obtainable, it is not
primary. Communication involves at least the speaker and the audience. The
speakers intent is tainted by underlying cultural factors, ideologies, and contexts,
which they may or may not be aware of. This is the same for the audiences
interpretation. Rather than seeking intent, joking can increase understanding in
difference, meaning beyond intent, exposing power structures and hidden or
forgotten contexts. Joking can reveal structures, boundaries, cultural
preconceptions, power struggles, and taboos. It can bring levity to a serious, tense,
and divisive situation, as well as solace without agreement.
Joking allows for the speaker to do things with speech and communication
that could not be done under normal circumstances, including permitted
disrespect. The difference, difference and deferment, present in joking reveals
not only the necessity of interpretation within communication and understanding,
but allows for multivalence and differential interpretation to be not only present,
but acceptable. Contexts, preconceived notions, and ideologies often taint
Benefits of Joking in the Media
One of the problems with regular discourse, especially media discourse, is
that it depends on a context it does not need to reveal. In other words, it offers a
contextualized interpretation, without having to reveal its context, or the contexts
of what it is interpreting. Even within a common production of meaning, people
are not going to necessarily agree, there can be understanding without agreement.
The point is not to create a univocality, a correctness, a right. Rather, it is to
understand where the other is coming from, if there are different views but
perhaps similar underlying desires, if there are similar views with perhaps
different underlying desires, and if there are experiences that contribute to ones
views and interpretations that can be used to enhance communication and
understanding in difference. Communication involves layers of meaning and
interpretation, and what is tying to by conveyed and what is interpreted do not
always line up. Interpretations can be multiple and irreconcilable.
This research shows differences in interpretations of candidates character,
their shortcomings, goals of the debate, and key issues. Important character issues
addressed in the post debate analysis were convictions and steadfastness. The
characterization of Kerry as a flip-flopper was a key issue. Campaign
correspondents on Fox News and MSNBC disagreed on whether or not Kerry was
a flip-flopper. The joking framework of The Daily Show was able to deal with
this by listening to a clip of Kerry stating that he has had one position. The Daily
Show then asserting, there he goes rambling on...actually that was pretty clear
(Appendix D). Without actually addressing Kerry being or not being a flip-
flopper, they were able to demonstrate an instance in which Kerry addresses and
clarifies the charge against him. In a sense, it questions the absoluteness of the
flip-flopper claim, framing it in a non-dualistic, black-or-white manner.
Another issue brought up in the commentaries was that of winning. Each
news program offered their own view on who won and why. Their reasons were
often contradictory. The Democrats thought Kerry won in part because of his
consistency. The Republicans thought Bush won in part because Kerry was
inconsistent. The Daily Show was able to deal with this framing of winning for
personal benefit, by showing a ridiculous framing of winning with the exchange
between correspondents Ed Helms and Rob Corddry. Not only did they show that
winning is a subjective term, but Jon Stewart explored how a party who did not do
so well might go about framing the debate (Appendix D). Not only does this open
up alternate meanings, but it reveals contexts and frames the parties use for fixing
meaning. In spinning the debate, each party frames their candidate as the
winner. There are different contexts and alternate meanings that allow this to
Rather than solidifying what is meant by the debate, The Daily Show
offers more ambiguity. It brings up issues but does not necessarily resolve them.
The lack of resolution is preferable in a multivocal approach. It helps maintains a
multivocality rather than establishing a correct view or a singular answer. The
Daily Show may border on ridiculousness at times, however, it is able to point out
contexts behind the debate including: the debate format, including its rigor and
lack of debate qualities; the influence of the debate, including a look at the
undecided voters it may have been seeking to influenced; the possibility of
meanings for winning, including not being reduced to tears; and meanings
beyond intent, including Bushs insistence that Kerry is not going to win.
The Daily Show challenged cultural perceptions. It showed how Kerrys
judgment against Bushs security policies, including how cargo is treated, could
be interpreted as a strike against Kerry. Although for some this might show
stubborn and judgmental worldviews, it could also be seen as revealing errors in
interpretation. These errors could affect either party, but a rush to judgment based
on already set views and ideologies is exposed as senseless.
Jon Stewart reveals contexts associated with commentaries. He shows
Daily Show correspondents with disparities in interpretations, revealing both sides
are asserting their meaning on the debate. He interviews correspondents from
each campaign, showing that both sides are spinning. He also deals with the
ambiguity inherent in the commentaries, by asserting, Im sure by tomorrow
what we thought happened tonight will have been proven to have not happened
There is a seriousness and a satire. Jon Stewart is reporting on what
happened, but he also mimics and makes fun of what happened and how other
news programs dealt it with. Some of his comments are over the top. His
comment on Bush talking about there not being an election may seem extreme.
However, this helps expose that both comments and interpretations can be taken a
diversity of ways. It aids in critical evaluation. It is a look at one instance that can
be applied to others. He can be seen as saying, do not take comments or
interpretations at face value. They come from somewhere, out of some context.
Stewart also deals with the divisiveness of the situation. The debate itself
is divisive; his opening bit about the Squabble in Coral Gobbles brings a levity
to the situation. It also provides a common ground for anyone watching, bringing
the audience together through humor. Joking also allows for permitted
disrespect. Stewart can say disrespectful things, things that other people have
thought, without true offense. He jokes about Bushs finer qualities, with General
Wesley Clark. It is offensive, but it is not entirely serious. It is a way of viewing
the information, from a,contextual perspective.
Joking frameworks create the necessity of intertextuality. For joking to
be understood, there are structures and stereotypes that must be understood. Jon
Stewarts commentary on the presidential debates is enhanced with a familiarity
to the debate structure, the candidates, and the commentaries by other news
channels. Allusions to focus groups, undecided voters, as well as commentary and
debate structures are helpful for getting the jokes. Understanding the campaign
struggles and accusations would also be helpful.
A media presentation situated within a joking framework allows for the
very things media is accused of taking out of communication. It is not a mere
bestowal of fixed meaning. It allows the listener to see some of the processes by
which that meaning is constructed. It is not meant to be taken at face value, and at
times provides ridiculousness that compels active participation. Jon Stewarts
program often provides an obvious fashioning of reality, revealing the flaws and
perhaps even ridiculousness of media communication: taking something that may
be subtle in its original state, and drawing it out. As stated above, Jon Stewart
sums up this type of media interpretation by saying Im sure by tomorrow what
we thought happened tonight will have been proven to have not happened
Shortcomings of Joking in the Media
Although Jon Stewarts joking framework has offered benefits to media
communication, there are shortcomings. I hesitate to use the word drawbacks,
because it is not so much what was done, but what is left undone. There is a
liberal bias in the show. The show itself is not neutral. However, it does address
different views, making fun of both sides to some extent. The Daily Shows
critiques do seem harsher on conservatives than liberals. Part of this has to do
with the audience demographic of the program. Other shortcomings present
include depth or superficiality of what is revealed or questioned, the presence of
dualism, and the critiques remaining within the system.
Not all elements of joking structures were used or revealed in this episode
of The Daily Show. The time slot for the program is only a half hour, so not
everything can be addressed or exposed. The Daily Show is biased, has a target
audience, and likely has little to offer certain worldviews. When operating within
a joking framework, there needs to be shared stereotypes, ideologies, and contexts
in order for the jokes, allusions, and structures to be understood.
The criticism could be made that the depth of what is revealed or
questioned on The Daily show is generally insignificant or superficial. Even if it
can lead to more questioning or active participation in meaning creation, it can
also just be amusing. The depth of contexts exposed seemed slight, and ways for
negotiating difference did not seem to span political parties.
Especially in a deeply divided political setting, it seems unlikely for the
program to appeal to both political parties. For those with set worldviews and
ideologies, and a serious view of politics, the joking could be seen as just plain
disrespectful, not as permitted disrespect. The strong dualism in American politics
involves a divide between people that joking does not necessarily bridge. In a
sense, this dualism makes joking vital, for it may be a way to negotiate the divide
between parties. However, this dualism also creates a contextual and ideological
divide that may make jokes unintelligible, or off target, to each other.
Both Postman (2006) and Marcuse (1992) insist that critiques from within
the system are not the solution. It is not an undermining or overthrowing of the
system. Rather it propagates the system. The entertainment system pacifies the
masses (Postman 2006, p.141). Perhaps some forms of critique do the same,
offering possibilities while maintaining the status quo. Joking can be seen as
entertainment and amusement. Joking within the media and entertainment system
can proliferate that system.
Joking offers a possibility for negotiating difference without sacrificing
personal beliefs and opinions. Joking presents a frame in which things are
supposed to be taken as other than how they normally would. With joking, one
must examine possibilities. In a sense, it forces the listener to elicit contexts and
make a judgment, rather than just receive data.
Joking has the ability to usurp power relations, to talk about the
unspeakable, to question the unquestionable, to challenge what can be talked
about and who can talk about it, to look at language and meaning: ways it is
interpreted, the contexts from which it arise, to go beyond bestowment to
interactive communication, to seek understanding not just distribution, and to give
voice to aspects of habitus others may take for granted.
Meanings transcend simply what is said. Joking helps reveal the ambiguity
in language, pointing out inconsistencies, multiple meanings, and underlying
structures. An approach to communication as ambiguous in terms of meaning
allows for a mutual production of meaning. In a mutually accepted ambiguity, an
active pursuit of shared meaning can occur. Through the acceptance of
multivalence and differance, meaning can be seen not as a given, but as a mutual
striving for understanding in the shared production of meaning.
However biased, Jon Stewart does disclose a more contextualized view,
making fun of both candidates even if not equally. Joking cannot provide
everything, especially in one program, in one half hour. Although its ability for
critique may be questioned, this research has shown that joking offers more than
critique. It allows for meaning making, via the media, to become an active
Joking did not provide an advantage in understanding intent. However, in
line with deconstruction, joking offers avenues in which to reveal the ambiguity
already present in communication. Joking can show alternative definitions,
alternate meanings. Through this revealed ambiguity, a mutual search for meaning
can be elicited. It is not that there is better access to an already distinct meaning.
Rather, it helps divulge the necessity for an interactive process of meaning
Joking may not provide a less fashioned reality, a view of reality fixed by
context and ideology. Instead, it seems to show obvious fashionings, such as
fake correspondents and fake focus groups. This fashioning of reality helps
reveal the dependence of perception on contextual factors that are often taken as
Public discourse or nationally broadcasted commentaries, which are set
within a joking framework, have the capacity to necessitate contextual bearings,
providing a contextually situated, embedded discourse. This type of discourse is
capable of communicating meaning without separating it from the real, its
context, and without a decontextualized fixing of meaning. Joking frameworks
provide an avenue for looking beyond intent and reference. Joking applies
principles of deferment, reinterpreting meanings and renegotiating situations.
There are also layers of meaning and context involved. Flexible, paradoxical, and
multivocal meanings are used within a paradigm of malleable language use.
Joking structure proves beneficial for interactive meaning making,
especial when the media is involved. Verbal play allows for a contextualized
interchange. In order for verbal play to be effective, there needs to be some
common understanding, shared knowledge of stereotypes, and an exchange within
a community of some sort. Joking necessitates a context, understanding and
negotiation. In opposition, regular discourse often assumes a shared context, but
does not necessitate one. Nor does it necessarily give feedback for the
achievement of common understanding.
I believe that joking is not only valid, but beneficial, way to communicate
meaning, especially to people trying to convey meaning to a broad audience that
possesses different contextual backgrounds. Rather than assumptions and
misinformation, communication could instead be treated in a way that leads to
asking questions and acknowledgement that perhaps one does not understand
where someone else is coming from or how they arrived at their conclusions or
how they are interpreting meanings of actions, events, and words. A conversation,
instead of a judgment, may be the result.
Future studies may explore other ways to enhance understanding in
communication and means of making meaning less ambiguous. One could also
explore how the elements of joking structure can be applied, even without humor.
There could be an exploration of second language learners and language
acquisition in relation to meaning making. This could lead to new ways of
learning and understanding languages and communication. With interpretation a
necessity for meaning making even within the same context and culture, how
much more between cultures? Hopefully there can be a pursuit of communication,
meaning making, and understanding that acknowledges the prevalence of
miscommunication and misunderstanding, and seeks to move beyond objective
meaning to understanding others within their contexts.
Future research may also include the look at joking and the media in a
non-two-party system. This could include the benefits and shortcomings thereof,
as well as how joking and the media differ in their effect within this system. One
could also look into the media and politics and their relation to bell hooks idea of
dominance, and how accessibility and sociocultural language difference play into
politics. This could explore whether or not politics, both running for office and
engaging in political understanding and conversation, possess socioeconomic and
linguistic factors; and whether or not politics possesses a linguistic elite devoid
of minority language usage. It could also explore politics in the minority, and how
minority politicians use language in comparison to non-politicians. There could
also be an analysis on whether joking is a reproduction of the system, or if it
offers a way out rather than reinforcing the system.
THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA
This transcript was retrieved from The American Presidency Project:
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=72770. It is also available with the other news
transcripts, which can be located on the News section, specifically TV & Radio Transcripts, of the
LexisNexis database. However, the UCSB website is thorough and extensive. It provides easy and
free access to this debate, as well as other presidential debates and speeches. It houses transcripts
from debates, addresses, press conferences, proclamations, press briefings, and more. The site is
easy to navigate and the documents well formatted for easy reading.
Jim Lehrer. Good evening from the University of Miami Convocation Center in Coral Gables,
Florida. I'm Jim Lehrer of the News Hour on PBS. And I welcome you to the first of the 2004
Presidential debates between President George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, and Senator
John Kerry, the Democratic nominee.
These debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Tonight's will last 90
minutes, following detailed rules of engagement worked out by representatives of the candidates. I
have agreed to enforce their rules on them. The umbrella topic is foreign policy and homeland
security. But the specific subjects were chosen by me. The questions were composed by me. The
candidates have not been told what they are, nor has anyone else.
For each question, there can only be a 2-minute response, a 90-second rebuttal, and at my
discretion, a discussion extension of 1 minute. A green light will come on when 30 seconds
remain in any given answer, yellow at 15, red at 5 seconds, and then flashing red means time's up.
There is also a backup buzzer system if needed. Candidates may not direct a question to each
other. There will be 2-minute closing statements but no opening statements.
There is an audience here in the hall, but they will remain absolutely silent for the next 90
minutes, except for now, when they join me in welcoming President Bush and Senator Kerry.
Good evening, Mr. President, Senator Kerry.
As determined by a coin toss, the first question goes to you, Senator Kerry. You have 2 minutes.
Preventing Future Terrorist Attacks
Do you believe you could do a better job than President Bush in preventing another 9/11-type
terrorist attack on the United States?
Senator Kerry. Yes, I do. But before 1 answer further, let me thank you for moderating. 1 want to
thank the University of Miami for hosting us. And 1 know the President will join me in welcoming
all of Florida to this debate. You've been through the roughest weeks anybody could imagine. Our
hearts go out to you, and we admire your pluck and perseverance.
1 can make America safer than President Bush has made us. And 1 believe President Bush and 1
both love our country equally, but we just have a different set of convictions about how you make
America safe. 1 believe America is safest and strongest when we are leading the world and when
we are leading strong alliances.
I'll never give a veto to any country over our security, but 1 also know how to lead those alliances.
This President has left them in shatters across the globe, and we're now 90 percent of the
casualties in Iraq and 90 percent of the costs. 1 think that's wrong, and 1 think we can do better.
1 have a better plan for homeland security. 1 have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror:
by strengthening our military; strengthening our intelligence; by going after the financing more
authoritatively; by doing what we need to do to rebuild the alliances; by reaching out to the
Muslim world, which the President has almost not done; and beginning to isolate the radical
Islamic Muslims, not have them isolate the United States of America.
1 know 1 can do a better job in Iraq, where I have a plan to have a summit with all of the allies,
something this President has not yet achieved, not yet been able to do to bring people to the table.
We can do a better job of training the Iraqi forces to defend themselves. And 1 know that we can
do a better job of preparing for elections. All of these, and especially homeland security, which
we'll talk about a little bit later.
Mr. Lehrer. Mr. President, you have a 90-second rebut.
President Bush. 1 too thank the University of Miami and say our prayers are with the good people
of this State who've suffered a lot.
September the 11th changed how America must look at the world. And since that day, our Nation
has been on a multipronged strategy to keep our country safer. We've pursued A1 Qaida wherever
A1 Qaida tries to hide; 75 percent of known A1 Qaida leaders have been brought to justice. The
rest of them know we're after them.
We've upheld the doctrine that said, "If you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the
terrorist." And the Taliban, no longer in power; 10 million people have registered to vote in
Afghanistan in the upcoming Presidential election.
In Iraq, we saw a threat, and we realized that after September the 11th, we must take threats
seriously before they fully materialize. Saddam Hussein now sits in a prison cell. America and the
world are safer for it.
We continue to pursue our policy of disrupting those who proliferate weapons of mass destruction.
Libya has disarmed. The A.Q. Khan network has been brought to justice. And as well, we're
pursuing a strategy ofof freedom around the world, because I understand free nations will reject
terror; free nations will answer the hopes and aspirations of their people; free nations will help us
achieve the peace we all want.
Likelihood of Future Terrorist Attack
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Mr. President, 2 minutes. Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry
on November the 2nd would increase the chances of the U.S. being hit by another 9/11-type
President Bush. No, I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe I'm going to win because the
American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people 1 know how to lead. I
haveI understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions that I've made, and
1 made some tough decisions. But people know where I stand. People out there listening know
what 1 believe, and that's how best it is to keep the peace.
This Nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate, and that's what they are.
This is a group of killers who will not only kill here but kill children in Russia, that will attack
unmercifully in Iraq hoping to shake our will. We have a duty to defeat this enemy. We have a
duty to protect our children and grandchildren. The best way to defeat them is to never waver, to
be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive, and at the same
time, spread liberty.
And that's what people are seeing now is happening in Afghanistan. Ten million citizens have
registered to vote. It's a phenomenal statistic, that if given a chance to be free, they will show up at
the polls. Forty-one percent of those 10 million are women.
In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard. You know why? Because
an enemy realizes the stakes. The enemy understands a free Iraq will be a major defeat in their
ideology of hatred. That's why they're fighting so vociferously. They showed up in Afghanistan
when they were there because they tried to beat us, and they didn't. And they're showing up in Iraq
for the same reason. They're trying to defeat us. And if we lose our will, we lose. But if we remain
strong and resolute, we will defeat this enemy.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety-second response, Senator Kerry.
Senator Kerry. I believe in being strong and resolute and determined, and 1 will hunt down and kill
the terrorists, wherever they are. But we also have to be smart, Jim, and smart means not diverting
your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Usama bin Laden and taking it
off to Iraq, where the 9/11 Commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and
Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the
removal of Saddam Hussein.
This President has made, 1 regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we
look for in the President of the United States of America.
I'm proud that important military figures are supporting me in this race: former Chairman of Joint
Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili; just yesterday General Eisenhower's son, General John
Eisenhower, endorsed me; GeneralAdmiral William Crowe; General Tony McPeak, who ran the
Air Force war so effectively for his father. All believe I would make a stronger Commander in
Chief. And they believe it because they know I would not take my eye off of the goal, Usama bin
Laden. Unfortunately, he escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we
didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The President relied on
Afghan warlords that he outsourced that job to. That's wrong.
President's Judgment on Foreign Policy
Mr. Lehrer. New question, 2 minutes, Senator Kerry. "Colossal" misjudgments what colossal
misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made in these areas?
Senator Kerry. Well, where do you want me to begin? [Laughter] First of all, he made the
misjudgment of saying to America that he was going to build a true alliance, that he would
exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through the inspections. In fact, he first didn't
even want to do that, and it wasn't until former Secretary of State Jim Baker and General
Scowcroft and others pushed publicly and said, "You've got to go to the U.N.," that the President
finally changed his mind his campaign has a word for thatand went to the United Nations.
Now, once there, we could have continued those inspections. We had Saddam Hussein trapped.
He also promised America that he would go to war as a last resort. Those words mean something
to me, as somebody who has been in combat, "last resort." You've got to be able to look in the
eyes of families and say to those parents, "I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the loss
of your son and daughter." I don't believe the United States did that, and we pushed our allies
And so today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost, $200 billion$200
billion that could have been used for health care, for schools, for construction, for prescription
drugs for seniors, and it's in Iraq. And Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror.
The center is Afghanistan where, incidentally, there were more Americans killed last year than the
year before, where the opium production is 75 percent of the world's opium production, where 40
to 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan is based on opium, where the elections have been
postponed 3 times. The President moved the troops, so he's got 10 times the number of troops in
Iraq than he has in Afghanistan, where Usama bin Laden is. Does that mean that Saddam Hussein
was 10 times more important than Usama bin Laden excuse meSaddam Hussein more
important than Usama bin Laden? I don't think so.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety-second response, Mr. President.
President Bush. My opponent looked at the same intelligence I looked at and declared, in 2002,
that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat. He also said, in December of 2003, that anyone who
doubts that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein does not have the judgment to be President.
1 agree with him. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein.
1 was hoping diplomacy would work. 1 understand the serious consequences of committing our
troops into harm's way. It's the hardest decision a President makes. So 1 went to the United
Nations. 1 didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations; 1 decided to go there myself.
And I went there hoping that, once and for all, the free world would act in concert to get Saddam
Hussein to listen to our demands. And they passed a resolution that said, "Disclose, disarm, or face
serious consequences." I believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions,
and nothing took place. As a matter of factmy opponent talks about inspectorsthe facts are
that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn't going to work. That's kind of a
pre-September-10th mentality, to hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would
make this world a more peaceful place. He was hoping we'd turn away. But there was, fortunately,
others beside myself who believed that we ought to take action, and we did. The world is safer
without Saddam Hussein.
Priorities in the War on Terror
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Mr. President, 2 minutes. What about Senator Kerry's point, the
comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Usama bin Laden and going after
President Bush. Jim, we've got the capability of doing both. As a matter of fact, this is a global
effort. We're facing a a group of folks who have such hatred in their heart, they'll strike
anywhere with any means. And that's why it's essential that we have strong alliances, and we do.
That's why it's essential that we make sure that we keep weapons of mass destruction out of the
hands of people like A1 Qaida, which we are. But to say that there's only one focus on the war on
terror doesn't really understand the nature of the war on terror.
Of course we're after Saddam Hussein 1 mean, bin Laden. He'she's isolated. Seventy-five
percent of his people have been brought to justice. The killer inthe mastermind of the
September the 11th attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, is in prison. We're making progress, but the
front on this war is more than just one place. The Philippineswe've got helpwe're helping
them there to bringto bring A1 Qaida affiliates to justice there. And of course Iraq is a central
part of the war on terror. That's why Zarqawi and his people are trying to fight us. Their hope is
that we grow weary and we leave. The biggest disaster that could happen is that we not succeed in
Iraq. We will succeed. We've got a plan to do so, and the main reason we'll succeed is because the
Iraqis want to be free.
I had the honor of visiting with Prime Minister Allawi. He's a strong, courageous leader. He
believes in the freedom of the Iraqi people. He doesn't want U.S. leadership, however, to send
mixed signals, to not stand with the Iraqi people. He believes, like I believe, that the Iraqis are
ready to fight for their own freedom. They just need the help to be trained. There will be elections
in January. We're spending reconstruction money. And our alliance is strong. That's the plan for
victory. And when Iraq is free, America will be more secure.
Mr. Lehrer. Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.
Senator Kerry. The President just talked about Iraq as a center of the war on terror. Iraq was not
even close to the center of the war on terror before the President invaded it. The President made
the judgment to divert forces from under General Tommy Franks from Afghanistan before the
Congress even approved it, to begin to prepare to go to war in Iraq. And he rushed to war in Iraq
without a plan to win the peace.
Now, that is not the judgment that a President of the United States ought to make. You don't take
America to war unless you have a plan to win the peace. You don't send troops to war without the
body armor that they need. I've met kids in Ohio, parents in Wisconsin, placesIowa, where
they're going out on the Internet to get the state-of-the-art body gear to send to their kidssome of
them have got them for a birthday present. I think that's wrong. Humvees10,000 out of 12,000
Humvees that are over there aren't armored. And you go visit some of those kids in the hospitals
today who were maimed because they don't have the armament.
This President justI don't know if he sees what's really happening out there, but it's getting
worse by the daymore soldiers killed in June than before, more in July than June, more in
August than July, more in September than in August. And now we see beheadings, and we've got
weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every single day, and they're blowing people up.
And we don't have enough troops there.
President Bush. Can I respond?
Mr. Lehrer. Let's do aone of these one-minute extensions. You have 30 seconds.
President Bush. Thank you, sir.
First of all, what my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force and
now says, "It's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place." I dont see how you can lead
this country to succeed in Iraq if you say "wrong war, wrong time, wrong place." What message
does that send our troops? What message does that send our allies? What message does that send
No, the way to win this is to be steadfast and resolved and to follow through on the plan that I've
Mr. Lehrer. Thirty seconds, Senator.
Senator Kerry. Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those
troops, now that we're there. We have to succeed. We can't leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn't
mean it wasn't a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Usama bin Laden. It
was. Now, we can succeed, but I don't believe this President can. 1 think we need a President who
has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and to do what's necessary to make it so
America isn't doing this alone.
Mr. Lehrer. We'll come back to Iraq in a moment, but I want to come back to where 1 began, on
homeland security. This is a 2-minute new question. Senator Kerry, as President, what would you
do specifically, in addition to or differently, to increase the homeland security of the United States,
than what President Bush is doing?
Senator Kerry. Jim, let me tell you exactly what I'll do, and there are a long list of things. First of
all, what kind of mixed message does it send when you've got $500 million going over to Iraq to
put police officers in the streets of Iraq and the President is cutting the COPS program in
America? What kind of message does it send to be sending money to open firehouses in Iraq, but
we're shutting firehouses, who are the first-responders, here in America?
The President hasn't put one nickel not one nickelinto the effort to fix some of our tunnels
and bridges and most exposed subway systems. That's why they had to close down the subway in
New York when the Republican Convention was there. We hadn't done the work that ought to be
done. The President95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida,
are not inspected. Civilians get onto aircraft, and theirtheir luggage is X-rayed, but the cargo
hold is not X-rayed. Does that make you feel safer in America?
This President thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut
rather than invest in homeland security. Those aren't my values. I believe in protecting America
first. And long before President Bush and I get a tax cutand that's who gets itlong before we
do, I'm going to invest in homeland security, and I'm going to make sure we're not cutting COPS
programs in America, and we're fully staffed at our firehouses and that we protect the nuclear and
chemical plants. The President also, unfortunately, gave in to the chemical industry, which didn't
want to do some of the things necessary to strengthen our chemical plant exposure.
And there's an enormous undone job to protect the loose nuclear materials in the world that are
able to get to terrorists. That's a whole other subject, butI see we still have a little bit more time.
Let me just quickly say, at the current pace the President will not secure the loose material in the
Soviet Unionformer Soviet Union for 13 years. I'm going to do it in 4 years. And we're going to
keep it out of the hands of terrorists.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety-second response, Mr. President.
President Bush. I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for all these promises. It's
like a huge tax gap andanyway, that's for another debate.
My administration has tripled the amount of money we're spending on homeland security, to $30
billion a year. My administration worked with the Congress to create the Department of Homeland
Security so we could better coordinate our borders and ports. We've got 1,000 extra Border Patrol
on the southern border, more than 1,000 on the northern border. We're modernizing our borders.
We've spent $3.1 billion for fire and police$3.1 billion. We're doing our duty to provide the
But the best way to protect this homeland is to stay on the offense. We have to be right 100
percent of the time, and the enemy only has to be right once to hurt us. There's a lot of good
people working hard. And by the way, we've also changed the culture of the FBI to have
counterterrorism as its number one priority. We're communicating better. We're going to reform
our intelligence services to make sure that we get the best intelligence possible. The PATRIOT
Act is vital. It's vital that the Congress renew the PATRIOT Act, which enables our law
enforcement to disrupt terrorist cells.
But again, 1 repeat to my fellow citizens, the best way to protect you is to stay on the offense.
Mr. Lehrer. Yes, let's do a littleyes, 30 seconds.
Senator Kerry. The President just said the FBI had changed its culture. We just read on the front
pages of America's papers that there are over 100,000 hours of tapes unlistened to. On one of those
tapes may be the enemy being right the next time. And the test is not whether you're spending
more money. The test is, are you doing everything possible to make America safe? We didn't need
that tax cut. America needed to be safe.
President Bush. Of course we're doing everything we can to protect America. I wake up every day
thinking about how best to protect America. That's my job. I work with Director Mueller of the
FBI. He comes into my office, when I'm in Washington, every morning talking about how to
protect us. There's a lot of really good people working hard to do so. It's hard work.
But again, I want to tell the American people, we're doing everything we can at home, but you
better have a President who chases these terrorists down and bring them to justice before they hurt
Criteria for Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Iraq
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Mr. President, 2 minutes. What criteria would you use to determine
when to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq?
President Bush. Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi
citizens to be trained to do the job. And that's what we're doing. We got 100,000 trained now,
125,000 by the end of this year, over 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way. We'll
never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters into their own hands and
protect themselves. I believe they want to. Prime Minister Allawi believes they want to.
And so the best indication about when we can bring our troops homewhich I really want to do,
but 1 don't want to do so for the sake of bringing them home; 1 want to do so because we've
achieved an objectiveis to see the Iraqis perform, is to see the Iraqis step up and take
And so the answer to your question is, when our generals on the ground and Ambassador
Negroponte tells me that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will
have been held by then, that there's stability, and that they're on their way toyou know, a nation
of that's free. That's when. And 1 hope it's as soon as possible. But I know putting artificial
deadlines won't work. My opponent one time said, "Well, get me elected, I'll have them out of
there in 6 months." That'syou can't do that and expect to win the war on terror.
My message to our troops is: Thank you for what you're doing; we're standing with you strong;
we'll give you all the equipment you need; and we'll get you home as soon as the mission's done,
because this is a vital mission. A free Iraq will be a ally in the war on terror, and that's essential. A
free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom. A free
Iraq will help secure Israel. A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in
places like Iran. A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
Senator Kerry. Thank you, Jim. My message to the troops is also "Thank you" for what they're
doing, but it's also, "Help is on the way." 1 believe those troops deserve better than what they are
getting today. You know, it's interesting, when I was in the ropeline just the other day coming out
here from Wisconsin, a couple of young returnees were in the line, one active duty, one from the
Guard. And they both looked at me and said, "We need you. You've got to help us over there."
Now, I believe theres a better way to do this. You know, the President's father did not go into
Iraqinto Baghdad, beyond Basra. And the reason he didn't is, he saidhe wrote in his book,
because there was no viable exit strategy. And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly
hostile land. That's exactly where we find ourselves today. There's a sense of American
The only building that was guarded when the troops went into Baghdad was the oil ministry. We
didn't guard the nuclear facilities. We didnt guard the foreign office, where you might have found
information about weapons of mass destruction. We didn't guard the borders. Almost every step of
the way, our troops have been left on these extraordinarily difficult missions. 1 know what it's like
to go out on one of those missions where you don't know what's around the comer. And 1 believe
our troops need other allies helping. I'm going to hold that summit. I will bring fresh credibility, a
new start, and we will get the job done right.
Mr. Lehrer. New-
President Bush. Jim----
Mr. Lehrer. All right, go ahead. Yes, sir.
President Bush. 1 think it's worthy for a followup-
Mr. Lehrer. Sure.
President Bush.-----if you don't mind.
Senator Kerry. Let's change the rules. We can add a whole[inaudible],
Mr. Lehrer. We can do 30 seconds each here.
President Bush. All right. My opponent says, "Help is on the way," but what kind of message does
it say to our troops in harm's way, "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"? That's not a message a
Commander in Chief givesor "This is a great diversion." As well, help is on the way, but it's
certainly hard to tell it when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental to provide equipment
for our troops and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it. That's not what
Commander in Chiefs does when you're trying to lead troops.
Mr. Lehrer. Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.
Senator Keriy. Well, you know, when 1 talked about the $87 billion, 1 made a mistake in how 1
talk about the war. But the President made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse? I believe
that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in
Vietnam. When I came back from that war, I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the
fact that 1 stood up to say no, but 1 did. And that's what 1 did with that vote. And I'm going to lead
those troops to victory.
Planning and International Cooperation in Iraq
Mr. Lehrer. All right, new question, 2 minutes, Senator Kerry. Speaking of Vietnam, you spoke to
Congress in 1971, after you came back from Vietnam, and you said, quote, "How do you ask a
man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?
Senator Keriy. No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we putthat I'm
offering. I believe that we have to win this. The President and 1 have always agreed on that. And
from the beginning, 1 did vote to give the authority because 1 thought Saddam Hussein was a
threat. And I did accept thatthat intelligence. But I also laid out a very strict series of things we
needed to do in order to proceed from the position of strength, and the President, in fact, promised
them. He went to Cincinnati, and he gave a speech in which he said, "We will plan carefully. We
will proceed cautiously. We will not make war inevitable. We will go with our allies." He didn't
do any of those things.
They didn't do the planning. They left the planning of the State Department on the State
Department desks. They avoided even the advice of their own general. General Shinseki, the
Army Chief of Staff, said, "You're going to need several hundred thousand troops." Instead of
listening to him, they retired him. The terrorism czar, who has worked for every President since
Ronald Reagan, said, "Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt
invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor." That's what we have here.
And what we need now is a President who understands how to bring these other countries together
to recognize their stakes in this. They do have stakes in it. They've always had stakes in it. The
Arab countries have a stake in not having a civil war. The European countries have a stake in not
having total disorder on their doorstep. But this President hasn't even held the kind of
statesmanlike summits that pull people together and get them to invest in those stakes. In fact, he's
done the opposite; he pushed them away. When the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, offered the
United Nations, he said, "No, no, we'll go do this alone."
To save for Halliburton the spoils of the war. they actually issued a memorandum from the
Defense Department saying, "If you weren't with us in the war, don't bother applying for any
construction." That's not a way to invite people.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety seconds.
President Bush. That's totally absurd. Of course the U.N. was invited in, and we support the U.N.
efforts there. They pulled out after Sergio de Mello got killed, but they're now back in, helping
with elections. My opponent says we didn't have any allies in this war? What's he say to Tony
Blair? What's he say to Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland? I mean, you can't expect to build an
alliance when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side by side with American
troops in Iraq.
Plus, he says the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So
what's the message going to be? "Please join us in Iraq for a grand diversion"? "Join us for a war
that is a wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time"? 1 know how these people think. 1 deal
with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone
frequently. They're not going to follow somebody who says this is "the wrong war at the wrong
place at the wrong time." Theyre not going to follow somebody whose core convictions keep
changing because of politics in America.
And finally, he says we ought to have a summit. Well, there are summits being held. Japan is
going to have a summit for the donors. There's $14 billion pledged, and Prime Minister Koizumi is
going to call countries to account to get them to contribute. And there's going to be an Arab
summit of the neighborhood countries, and Colin Powell helped set up that summit.
Mr. Lehrer. Thirty seconds, Senator.
Senator Kerry. The United Nations' Kofi Annan offered help after Baghdad fell. And we never
picked him up on that and did what was necessary to transfer authority and to transfer
reconstruction. It was always American-run.
Secondly, when we went in, there were three countries, Great Britain, Australia, and the United
States. That's not a grand coalition. We can do better.
Mr. Lehrer. Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
President Bush. Well, actually, he forgot Poland. And now, there are 30 nations involved, standing
side by side with our American troops, and I honor their sacrifices. And 1 don't appreciate it when
a candidate for President denigrates the contributions of these bravebrave soldiers. It'syou
cannot lead the world if you do not honor the contributions of those who are with us. He called
them the "coerced and the bribed." That's not how you bring people together.
Our coalition is strong. It will remain strong, for myso long as I'm the President.
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Mr. President, 2 minutes. You have said there was a, quote,
"miscalculation of what the conditions would be in postwar Iraq. What was the miscalculation,
and how did it happen?
President Bush. No, what I said was that because we achieved such a rapid victory, more of the
Saddam loyalists were around. In other words, we thought we'd whip more of them going in. But
because Tommy Franks did such a great job in planning the operations, we moved rapidly, and a
lot of the Ba'athists and Saddam loyalists laid down their arms and disappeared. I thought we
wouldthey would stay and fight, but they didn't. And now we're fighting them now.
It'sand it's hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on
the TV screens how hard it is, but it's necessary work. And I'm optimistic. Sec, I think you can be
realistic and optimistic at the same time. I'm optimistic we'll achieveI know we won't achieve if
we send mixed signals. I know we're not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals
to our troops, our friends, the Iraqi citizens.
We've got a plan in place. The plan says there'll be elections in January, and there will be. The
plan says we'll train Iraqi soldiers so they can do the hard work, and we are. And its not only just
America, but NATO is now helping. Jordan is helping train police. The UAE is helping train
police. We've allocated $7 billion over the next months for reconstruction efforts, and we're
making progress there. And our alliance is strong. Now, 1 just told you, there's going to be a
summit of the Arab nations. Japan will be hosting a summit. We're making progress.
It is hard work. It is hard work to go from a tyranny to a democracy. It's hard work to go from a
place where people get their hands cut off or executed, to a place where people are free. But it's
necessary work, and a free Iraq is going to make this world a more peaceful place.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
Senator Kern\ What 1 think troubles a lot of people in our country is that the President has just
sort of described one kind of mistake, but what he has said is that even knowing there were no
weapons of mass destruction, even knowing there was no imminent threat, even knowing there
was no connection of A1 Qaida, he would still have done everything the same way. Those are his
words. Now, I would not.
So what I'm trying to do is just talk the truth to the American people and to the world. Truth is
what good policy is based on. It's what leadership is based on.
The President says that I'm denigrating these troops. I have nothing but respect for the British and
for Tony Blair and for what they've been willing to do. But you can't tell me that when the most
troops any other country has on the ground is Great Britain with 8,300, and below that, the 4
others are below 4,000, and below that, there isnt anybody out of the hundreds, that we have a
genuine coalition to get this job done. You can't tell me that on the day that we went into that war
and it started, it was principally the United States, theAmerica and Great Britain and one or two
others; that's it. And today we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs.
And meanwhile, North Korea has gotten nuclear weapons. Talk about mixed messages, the
President is the one who said we can't allow countries to get nuclear weapons. They have. I'll
Candidates' Candor and Consistency
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Senator Kerry, 2 minutes. You've justyou've repeatedly accused
President Bush, not here tonight but elsewhere before, of not telling the truth about Iraq,
essentially of lying to the American people about Iraq. Give us some examples of what you
consider to be his not telling the truth.
Senator Kerry. Well, I've never, ever used the harshest word, as you did just then, and 1 try not to.
I've beenbut I'll, nevertheless, tell you that 1 think he has not been candid with the American
people, and I'll tell you exactly how.
First of all, we all know that in his State of the Union Message he told Congress about nuclear
materials that didn't exist. We know that he promised America that he was going to build this
coalition. 1 just described the coalition. It is not the kind of coalition we were described when we
were talking about voting for this. The President said he would exhaust the remedies of the United
Nations and go through that full process. He didn't. He cut it off, sort of arbitrarily. And we know
that there were further diplomaticsefforts underway. They just decided the time for diplomacy is
over and rushed to war without planning for what happens afterwards. Now, he misled the
American people in his speech when he said, "We will plan carefully." They obviously didn't. He
misled the American people when he said, "We'd go to war as a last resort." We did not go as a
last resort. And most Americans know the difference.
Now, this has cost us deeply in the world. I believe that it is important to tell the truth to the
American people. I've worked with those leaders the President talks about. I've worked with them
for 20 years, for longer than this President, and I know what many of them say today, and I know
how to bring them back to the table.
And 1 believe that fresh start, new credibility, a President who can understand what we have to do
to reach out to the Muslim world, to make it clear that this is not you know, Usama bin Laden
uses the invasion of Iraq in order to go out to people and say theAmerica has declared war on
Islam. We need to be smarter about how we wage a war on terror. We need to deny them the
recruits. We need to deny them the safe havens. We need to rebuild our alliances. I believe that
Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, and others did that more effectively, and Pm going to try to follow
in their footsteps.
Mr. Lehrer. Ninety seconds, Mr. President.
President Bush. My opponent just said something amazing. He said Usama bin Laden uses the
invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for America. Usama bin Laden isn't going to
determine how we defend ourselves. Usama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people
decide. I decided. The right action was in Iraq.
My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn't a mistake. He said 1 misled on Iraq. I don't think he was
misleading when he called Iraq a grave threat in the fall of 2002. I don't think he was misleading
when he said that it was right to disarm Iraq in the spring of 2003.1 don't think he misled you
when he said that ifanyone who doubted whether the world was better off without Saddam
Hussein in power didn't have the judgment to be President. I don't think he was misleading. 1 think
what is misleading is to say you can lead and succeed in Iraq if you keep changing your positions
on this war, and he has. As the politics change, his positions change, and that's not how a
Commander in Chief acts.
1let me finish. The intelligence 1 looked at was the same intelligence my opponent looked at, the
very same intelligence. And when I stood up there and spoke to the Congress, I W'as speaking off
the same intelligence he looked at to make his decisions to support the authorization of force.
Mr. Lehrer. Thirty secondswe'll do a 30-sccond here.
Senator Kerry. I wasn't misleading when I said he was a threat. Nor was I misleading on the day
that the President decided to go to war when I said that he had made a mistake in not building
strong alliances and that 1 would have preferred that he did more diplomacy. I've had one position,
one consistent position, that Sad-dam Hussein was a threat; there was a right way to disarm him
and a wrong way. And the President chose the wrong way.
Mr. Lehrer. Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
President Bush. The only thing consistent about my opponent's position is that he's been
inconsistent. He changes positions. And you cannot change positions in this war on terror if you
expect to win. And I expect to win. It's necessary we win. We're being challenged like never
before, and we have a duty to our country and to future generations of America to achieve a free
Iraq, a free Afghanistan, and to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
Hard Decisions/Support for the Military
Mr. Lehrer. New question, Mr. President. 2 minutes. Has the war in Iraq been worth the cost in
American lives? Ten thousand fifty two1 mean, 1,052 as of today.
President Bush. No, every life is precious. Every life matters. You know, my hardestthe hardest
part of the job is to know that I committed the troops in harm's way and then do the best 1 can to
provide comfort for the loved ones who lost a son or a daughter or a husband and wife.
And you know, I think about Missy Johnson, who is a fantastic young lady I met in Charlotte,
North Carolina, she and her son, Bryan. They came to see me. Her husband, P.J., got killed. He'd
been in Afghanistan, went to Iraq. You know, it's hard work to try to love her as best as 1 can,
knowing full well that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in harm's way. I told her,
after we prayed and teared up and laughed some, that 1 thought her husband's sacrifice was noble
and worthy, because 1 understand the stakes of this war on terror. 1 understand that we must find
A1 Qaida wherever they hide. We must deal with threats before they fully materialize and
Saddam Hussein was a threatand that we must spread liberty, because in the long run, the way
to defeat hatred and tyranny and oppression is to spread freedom. Missy understood that. Thats
what she told me her husband understood.
So you say, was it worth it? Every life is precious. That's what distinguishes us from the enemy.
Everybody matters. But I think it's worth it, Jim. I think its worth it because I thinkI know in
the long term, a free Iraq, a free Afghanistan will set such a powerful example in the part of the
world that's desperate for freedom it will help change the worldthat we can look back and
say, "We did our duty."
Mr. Lehrer. Senator, 90 seconds.
Senator Kerr}!. 1 understand what the President is talking about, because I know what it means to
lose people in combat. And the question, is it worth the cost, reminds me of my own thinking
when I came back from fighting in that war, and it reminds me that it is vital for us not to confuse
the war, ever, with the warriors. That happened before.
And that's one of the reasons why 1 believe 1 can get this job done, because I am determined, for
those soldiers and for those families, for those kids who put their lives on the linethat is noble.
That's the most noble thing that anybody can do. And I want to make sure the outcome honors that
Now, we have a choice here. I've laid out a plan by which I think we can be successful in Iraq,
with a summit, by doing better training faster, by cuttingby doing what we need to do with
respect to the U.N. and the elections. There's only 25 percent of the people in there. They can't
have an election right now. The President is not getting the job done.
So the choice for America is, you can have a plan that I've laid out in four points, each of which I
can tell you more about, or you can go to johnkerry.com and see more of it, or you have the
President's plan, which is four words, "More of the same." I think my plan is better. And my plan
has a better chance of standing up and fighting for those troops. 1 will never let those troops down
and will hunt and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.
Mr. Lehrer. Newall right, sir, go ahead. Thirty seconds.
President Bush. I understand what it means to be the Commander in Chief, and if I were to ever
say this is the wrong war at the wrong time at the rightwrong place, the troops would wonder,
"How can 1 follow this guy?" You cannot lead the war on terror if you keep changing positions on
the war on terror and say things like, "Well, this is just a grand diversion." It's not a grand
diversion. This is an essential, that we get it right. And so Ithe plan he talks about simply won't
Mr. Lehrer. Senator Kerry, you have 30 seconds, right.
Senator Kerry. Secretary of State Colin Powell told this President the Pottery Bam rule: If you
break it, you fix it. Now, if you break it, you made a mistake. It's the wrong thing to do, but you
own it. And then you've got to fix it and do something with it. Now, that's what we have to do.
There's no inconsistency.
Soldiers know, over there, that this isn't being done right yet. I'm going to get it right for those
soldiers, because it's important to Israel. It's important to America. It's important to the world. It's
important to the fight on terror. But I have a plan to do it. He doesn't.
Timeline for Withdrawal From Iraq/ Conditions in Iraq
Mr. Lehrer. Speaking of your plan, new question, Senator Kerry, 2 minutes. Can you give us
specificsin terms of a scenario, timelines, et ceterafor ending U.S.major U.S. military
involvement in Iraq?
Senator Kerry. The timeline that I've set outand again, I want to correct the President, because
he's misled again this evening on what I've said. 1 didnt say I would bring troops out in 6 months.
1 said, "If we do the things that I've set out, and we are successful, we could begin to draw the
troops down in 6 months." And I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to
convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn't have long-term designs on it.
As I understand it, we're building some 14 military bases there now, and some people say they've