The Importance of Backgrounds and Setting

September 12, 2012, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to make a campaign speech in Jacksonville, Florida at the party headquarters. 150 supporters were there to cheer him on.

But Romney’s comments were to focus on the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Libya.

The campaign cleared the supporters out of the room and moved the journalists to a new setting.

The campaign assembled a blue background, planted some flags behind a lectern and completely changed the setting for a more somber speech in which Romney launched a critique of the Obama administration’s response to the attacks.

The President stood in the Rose Garden to make his comments. The sunlight was harsh. But the President, standing in the Rose Garden sends a different message than him sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office or standing in the White House press room.  The press room implies he will be open to questions, not just making a statement.  The Oval Office implies a grave situation that requires his full concentration.  The fact is the President got on Air Force One after making his statement to go to Las Vegas for a campaign stop.  So sitting behind the desk would send a mixed message -on the one hand he is so busy he can’t get up from his desk-on the other hand he is on the campaign trail.

Especially in moments of crisis and tension, it is critical that candidates appear “presidential.”  How would each of these comments have appeared to be different if they had campaign supporters cheering the statements, holding signs or if the candidate was not in dark suit and tie but in shirt sleeves?

There are lessons in this case for journalists.  Consider the setting, the background, the atmosphere you choose when interviewing subjects. The setting provides a context for how the viewer will understand the comments.

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