When Asking the Question is Part of the News Story (New Example: Clinton Supporters)

I ask my journalism students to avoid using the phrase “When asked about…” as a default transition in news stories. While they are taught in freshman comp classes to introduce their quotes and then explain the significance of the quotes, to a journalist that’s just filler.

This story from the Daily Mail (a UK publication which has a reputation for being gossipy and conservative) published pictures of teens and women during a rally for Hilary Clinton, showing them apparently rolling their eyes, smirking, or perhaps just looking a little sleepy while Bill Clinton was speaking. These are not professional TV spokesmodels, so they may not have made an attempt to have their game face on the entire time, and so it probably would not be hard to find, in all the video filmed during a given speech, a few frames in which people in the background look a little less than perfectly attentive. The stance of the news article was that the teens in the background had trouble respecting Mr. Clinton.

imageA young woman standing in the back of the stage closed her eyes for significant stretches of time as TV cameras rolled and a girl in front of her scowled and fought off a yawn.

Source: Women on stage scowl, grimace and roll eyes while Bill Clinton speaks

Note that nobody on the podium or in the crowd was likely to bring up the fact that Bill Clinton has a reputation for having extramarital adventures, or to describe these facial expressions as “scowls”and “grimaces”. I saw some sleepy eyes when I watched the video, but I think it’s a stretch to characterize the supporters as being anti Bill. At any rate, here’s how the Daily Mail worked the critical details into their story. Here is a passage that reports on an interview with a teen girl and her mother; the reporter first clarifies that the mother gave permission for the daughter to participate in the interview.

Two of the glum-looking females, a mother-daughter pair, spoke to Daily Mail Online after Clinton wrapped up his remarks. They said they were shocked to know how apathetic they looked on television.

‘We weren’t aware. I wasn’t aware!’ said Deanne Martin, a surgical nurse stood on stage behind her 14-year-old daughter Mary.

‘I’ve never been to one of these before,’ she offered as she gave permission for her child to be interviewed.

Mary was even more shocked, mouthing an ‘Oh, no!’ at the news of her apparent detachment.

The young girl said someone from the Clinton campaign recruited her and her mom to stand behind Bill.

‘We were nervous,’ she explained, and then abruptly shifted into the role of enthusiastic Hillary supporter.

‘I was ecstatic!’ the girl insisted, quickly painting on a go-getter’s grin, even though pictures told a different story.

‘I want to be the first female president – well, now the second,’ she said.

DailyMail.com delicately asked Deanne if she has told her daughter about Bill’s reputation with women during his White House years.

Young Mary jumped in and cut her mom off with a ‘so what’ shrug.

‘Oh, I’m aware,’ she said. ‘Yeah. He’s a womanizer.’

‘I think that that’s his social life,’ the eighth-grader said of the famous political Lothario. ‘And his work should be separate from that.’

Asked if she agreed, Deanne rolled her eyes left, then right, and sighed.

‘Um – I guess,’ she said at last.