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BOB WAKEHAM: Election time winkin’, blinkin’ and nod

Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau (second from left) speaks during a campaign stop in St. John's Tuesday morning. Also shown (from left) are Liberal incumbents  Nick Whelan (St. John's East) Seamus O'Regan (St. John's South-Mount Pearl) and Ken McDonald (Avalon).
Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau (second from left) speaks during a campaign stop in St. John's Tuesday morning. Also shown (from left) are Liberal incumbents Nick Whalen (St. John's East), Seamus O'Regan (St. John's South-Mount Pearl) and Ken McDonald (Avalon). — Telegram file photo

There was a time when “noddies” were in use, primarily in the television news business — a piece of hokey acting that producers utilized to camouflage edits in taped interviews, but almost as importantly, to convince viewers the journalists asking the questions were always smothered in empathy and curiosity, hanging on every word being said.

Even if you weren’t immersed in television jargon, and hadn’t ever heard the word “noddies,” you probably witnessed the trick thousands of times, oblivious to the video cheats.

It worked (and occasionally still works) this way: once the interview is concluded, perhaps a 15-minute event that will have to eventually be cut to five minutes, the single camera in the room is directed towards the journalist who will be taped doing his “noddies,” sometimes after the interview subject has left the room. He or she will nod (you’re ahead of me here) in as sincere a fashion as possible, and will occasionally smile, or display a look of sadness or bewilderment, the whole gamut of emotions, depending, of course, on the extent of the thespian talents of the reporter.

The journalist will sometimes repeat questions that had been posed during the actual interview — “re-asks” in television language; the “noddies” and the “re-asks” then inserted in the video product during the editing process, wherever and whenever required.

Even the venerable and enormously budgeted “60 Minutes,” seemingly around since Jesus scuffed around in tiny sandals, has used the ploy extensively, their interviews looking as if they were two-camera operations, one aimed at the interviewee, the other at the interviewer.

And yes, hypocrisy acknowledged: I’ve been there, done that. Many, many times. It’s the nature of the creative beast. At least that’s how I circumvented any ethical quandary that may have momentarily arisen in my mind.

This past week, though, ever since Pierre’s boy Justin forced Canadians to begin months of watching politicians peddling themselves, I was reminded once again of how the noddies have gone way beyond boob-tube journalism, and have been inserted regularly by flacks into the sales jobs undertaken on television on behalf of their bosses.

Just about every gathering of a political leader I saw on television included a horde of supporters in the background, nodding approval at every syllable voiced by their favoured politician, looking every bit like those little toy dogs you see through the back windows of cars, the heads in a constant state of bobbing.

A reporter would ask a question, and even as the politician began his answer, the sycophants — stationed in camera view by the PR flunkies — had already started their bobble-head doll routine. If the politician so much as burped or broke wind (I’m all about good taste, as you can tell), the crowd behind, I am convinced, would have nodded the equivalent of a four-star rating.

Candidates Nick Whalen and Seamus O’Regan were the noddy b’ys in St. John’s the other day when Trudeau dropped into St. John’s for a token, ever-so-brief campaign stop, although the photo op also included the Liberal leader’s awkward sit-down with a bunch of youngsters who danced around like crazed loons for the cameras. It brought the ancient and discomforting art of kissing babies during political campaigns to an exploitative low.

But it’s those obsequious and sucky noddies we’ll see in abundance during the next couple of months of federal electioneering: at rallies, in scrums with the travelling press corps, and in feet-shuffling ads.

A reporter would ask a question, and even as the politician began his answer, the sycophants — stationed in camera view by the PR flunkies — had already started their bobble-head doll routine.

Not that the noddies are reserved for election campaigns; they seem to be a prop in many a political exercise in recent times.

Local cabinet ministers like Gerry Byrne and Siobhan Coady, for instance, seem to have the noddy routine down pat whenever their boss, Dwight Ball, happens to be announcing new ways of saving our financial souls.

But they’ve got plenty of company, although Perry Trimper had not so much as a shot at doing his own noddy for the premier, prevented from doing so during his tenure as the supposed non-partisan Speaker of the House, and forever by his ouster from the cabinet after being taped making those unambiguous racist comments. (I think Trimper may have broken the record for the shortest tenure for a Newfoundlander in a cabinet, an embarrassing record held by Roger Simmons who was forced from Justin’s father Pierre’s cabinet after only 11 days when an investigation into taxation improprieties began. John Crosbie, then in opposition, dined out forever on Simmons’ ignominious fall from grace, as you can imagine).

At the local level, noddies are not confined to the Ball contingent. Tories and NDPers are surely blessed with noddy talents, loyal soldiers all. Keep watching.

Nor are the noddies delivered exclusively in public. Can you imagine the noddies around the cabinet table and in the caucus room during the Danny Williams era, as, for instance, when he launched the legacy ship Muskrat Falls, our own Titanic?

Nor are noddies unique to Canadian politicians. Just think of those rallies Donald Trump held, and continues to hold, with zombie-like supporters behind him nodding their support for every single inanity he mutters.

But back to the North: have some fun during the election campaign and take a gander at the noddies.

You can then ignore what the politician is saying.

A blessing, really.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com


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