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Yes, I admit it: I watched Fox News for much of the convention coverage, for both conventions. I wanted to be, um, fair and balanced in my understanding of how the coverage played out. I did flip back and forth to other networks, and Fox was truly magnificent.

For its use of agitprop film techniques, that is. If you're not familiar with the term "agitprop" was a Soviet Communist invention to provide "appropriate" information and education through popular entertainment, and at the dawn of cinema art, many film techniques were developed to use the visual and later audio techniques of what we'd now call video presentations to reinforce points.

There's considerable more neuroscience around today about why this works, and it all boils down to how our perceptual and cognitive systems work - we're wired to respond to things in a certain way - along with the conventions we accept as being regular consumers of video.

Now, I'm going to apologize from the outset that I don't have clips or screen captures to provide as illustrations. I wasn't thinking about writing about this until yesterday evening, into the President's speech, when I started making a few online comments and others started saying "OH MY GOSH YOU ARE RIGHT". I am hoping those who are more clever than I with video archives can post some supplemental evidence.

But Fox used techniques of altering camera angles, video and sound feeds, and basic editing to try to make, well, Democrats look bad and Republicans look good. I watched both the RNC and DNC on multiple channels, and below the flip I'll go into the details. In all cases, there are differences in Fox News' camera, audio, and editing techniques both from their own coverage of the two conventions and from the other network feeds.

Technique # 1:  Framing of Democratic speakers to make them look small and weak

If you saw Democratic speakers, including the President, on Fox, you saw them from a "pulled back" camera point of view, to make them appear farther away. They were shot from a higher angle than RNC speakers or the way Democrats were shot on other networks, and the camera framing had more "negative space" above the speakers' heads. This is intended to make the speaker look short, small, and more insignificant compared to the Republican speakers. Networks showing speeches typically fill the screen with the speaker, because it can show the person's facial expressions with greater detail; it adds, in a word, more humanity when we can use our built in facial recognition abilities to greater effect.  Fox chose to try to make the Democratic speakers look more distant, physically less impressive, and more alien (relatively, because of the facial issue).

Technique # 2: Use of different color palettes to make speakers look better or worse

One of the most striking things in flipping back and forth was the flatter, less contrast-emphasizing color palette Fox used. You can change the mix of colors in a color feed in a variety of ways, from the camera to the signal processing equipment. When you saw Democratic speakers on Fox, you could notice this immediately by the lighter shade of blue in the background, but this extends of course to the face. When humans see paler, more washed out skin tones, with flatter lighting and lower highlights, it makes the people depicted look more sickly and weak. They couldn't change the arena lighting, so they changed the color mix in "post" instead on Fox.

Technique # 3: Flatten audio mix and lower the volume to make Democrats hard to hear

This was the other most striking thing to a channel flipper such as myself. I had no problems hearing Republican speakers on Fox, and the volume of the audio on speakers was the same as for the talking heads before and after each speech segment. By contrast, if you flipped during the DNC, you'd have to turn up the volume to hear Democrats at the same audio levels -- by 50%, according to my TV's volume measurements. This was compared to PBS, CSPAN, MSNBC, and CNN. But when the talking heads on Fox came on, the volume quickly shot back up. Similarly, the background crowd noises of clapping and cheering, which are both taken from separate microphones and subject to control via the main audio feed, were mixed way, way down. This of course is to depict a lower level of enthusiasm and response. Finally, while this is more speculative on my part, I detected incongruous sounds in the Fox feed on some speeches, particularly during quiet parts -- as if they had a background microphone way back in the hall, where people were coming and going (maybe to the bathrooms, etc.), adding that kind of background noise that sounds like uninterested milling. This is more subtle but it's down there in the mix.

Putting the audio down to background level has two points, of course, The first is, if you don't rais the volume, the speech becomes more background noise: if talking about it at home, the viewers are likely to miss more words, or if viewing it in public, one is far less likely to hear anything at all. If the volume is raised, it's nearly as good, because the contrast to the talking head cutaway volume can literally make the listeners' head's hurt and their first impression after a speech is one of pain, which is a negative reinforcement for the message, of course.

Technique # 4:  Jump-cut, disjointed cutaway shots

Most cutaway-to-the-crowd techniques during these events -- much like, say, baseball games -- are intended to show the level of engagement of the listeners in the crowd and to give a sense of typical convention-goers. Sometimes they're used to be a more literal interpretation of the "audience", for instance, showing a veteran wearing a VFW garrison cap during a sequence in which veterans or military affairs is discussed.

The rhythm of these shots is a bit of a cinematic convention, in that you don't cutaway from the speaker in the middle of a sentence or an important point when they are attempting to use their own face and voice to make a connection, but during brief pauses in the speech at the end of sentences, and especially during applause lines.

On the Fox feed, the cutaways for the DNC speakers were frequently "off" this rhythm. They cut away in the middle of the President's lines, often twice in a single sequence, and then were followed by lingering pauses on the President during his "reaction to the audience" moments. This is designed to make the visual and spoken parts seem disjointed, to disrupt the viewer's sense of connection between audience and speaker, in short to make it seem non-sensical.

Technique # 5: Jarring cutaway shot choices; extreme camera angles

Related to the above technique, the choice of subjects was almost comical on Fox at some times. They'd cut away to somebody yawning or looking bored, or somebody who looked tired or possibly disapproving, even if the rest of the audience was thoroughly engaged in a point. I did not do a comprehensive review of the types of people and their dress, which is a good project for some graduate student someplace, but it struck me that the Fox cameras were looking for "weird" and "different" looking people in the cutaways in contrast to the somewhat more broadly representative use of cutaway subjects on the other feeds.

More noticeably, the cutaways were done in "close up" from low angles. This made the shots more elbows, knees, and things on the floor (backs of signs, people's bags, etc.) and showed faces less clearly. And in almost all cases, this did not show the whole convention floor - the impressive throng - but small pockets. This is designed to make the audience look smaller, more threatening and hostile (when we, as humans, see a lot of crowded bodies but not faces to read intentions, it activates certain fight-or-flight reactions as we cannot assess the intention of this unseen close-in crowd nor can we "see" an "escape" route, e.g. a bigger hall and lots of exitways).

Technique # 6: selective use of bottom of the screen crawls to distract viewers and reinforce a propaganda message

This was not as prominent on Night 3 as on Nights 2 and 1 of the DNC, but was most obvious during the First Lady's speech. Fox, unlike during similar RNC speeches (such as, say, Mrs. Romney's), chose to put a crawl under many speeches. In the case of Mrs. Obama, it was a disjointed bit of propaganda pulling together (surprise) two out of context snippets claiming to show an inconsistency between the President's promise to be held accountable by economic performance in 2008 versus his words in an interview done with a Colorado paper a few days ago. This same "factoid" on the crawl, with no other crawl "information" repeated for most of an hour.

Crawls distract the viewer, by intention, from what's going on in the screen shot of the speaker, and repetition of a propaganda item is axiomatically key to trying to brainwash the viewer to believe it.

Let it not be said they do not know their stuff over at Fox News. They're masters of their craft, and their craft is propaganda.

Originally posted to TheCrank on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 07:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Extraterrestrial Anthropologists.


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