The Long View 2006-07-06: The Deer in the Headlights

By Fabrice Florin ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Fabrice Florin ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This was a pretty funny bit. I have been on camera a couple of times myself, and I also find it very different than performing on stage.

The Deer in the Headlights

My fellow spelling reformers' tactic of picketing the National Spelling Bee every year has never greatly engaged my enthusiasm. They do take care to be supportive of the kids who participate and to be tactful and helpful to the press. Still, I wondered whether the smattering of media coverage the picketing would generate really justified the embarrassment.

Evidently it does. This AP story on the picketers and spelling reform in general has become one of the most cited on the Internet. At any rate, in recent days it has generated enough interview requests to overwhelm the slender public-relations resources of the American Literacy Council. As a board member, I have no more business doing interviews than a snake does to tap dance. Still, yesterday (July 6) I got email from a friendly and persuasive booker at the MSNBC talk/news show, The Most, asking for someone to do a quick segment at about 3:00 PM. Since no one else was available, I agreed.

MSNBC has studios in Seacaucus and Manhattan. I was offered a car to pick me up, but just took the train from Jersey City to Midtown, to an inconspicuous studio off Fifth Avenue. Apparently this function is outsourced to enterprises like this, at least when the talking head is not going to be in the same facility as the anchor (who in this case was Chris Jansing: I'm still not sure where she was).

It was less like going to a debate than like going to an imaging clinic: small rooms off a short, crowded hall; the interview room itself is very much like an MRI chamber, where they secure you to a desk and leave you in the sound-proofed semi-darkness to glare at the camera. The staff are efficient young women you offer you water and paint your face, and then give you handiwipes afterward to take the paint off. I suppose you could get used to this procedure, but I found the experience claustrophobic.

The clip is om the MSNBC website. Go to this page, then scroll down to the box entitled More from the Most. Choose the link Speling Mayd EZ. If anyone can figure out how I can save that for my files, please let me know.

Let me assure my readers that I do not actually have a hairlip. Also, for most purposes, I lost that stutter in high school. Still, it did not go quite as badly as I had thought. Hereafter, however, I will think less harshly of interviewees who appear on the screen with their talking points and cling to them for dear life. I am actually pretty agile in debates, and live audiences inspire me to epigram. Perhaps because there is no such feedback in front of a camera, I found that the only things I could say were things I had already formulated. The questions, and they were not bad questions, were mere impediments to my exposition.

Apparently someone really does watch MSNBC at three in the afternoon, because when I returned from the studio I found an invitation to do a radio interview. For those of you in the Twin Cities area, that interview is today, Friday, July 7, at 1:10 PM CT, on WCCO News/Talk 830.

I have been telling the spelling reformers for years that, someday, there would be a media breakout like this, and when it came we better have our story together. We don't, alas, at least in the sense of having a serious, consensus reform proposal. Spelling reform for English is a fleet of prototypes, as you can easily see from a glance at the Spelling Reform Ring. This may turn out to be a good thing: the lack of a firm proposal allows for more public input. Still, I could do with a product to sell.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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