Part 4 of 6 in an excellent series about the campaign press of 2004. This one is on the use and misuse of the "talking point" during the campaign. From CJR Campaign Desk
The life cycle of a talking point begins with its conception deep within the minds of campaign strategists. The likes of Karen Hughes, James Carville, Bob Shrum, and Matthew Dowd work diligently day and night to craft specific points that they hope will come to frame both the media presentation and the national debate. These men and women are not stupid; they know that if the point in question does not contain a seed of truth, it's going to be a hard sell indeed. But if it does, then the spin doctors go to work. Market-testing ensues, and labels such as "flip-flopper" and "steadfast leader" are reinforced (or countered) with carefully selected quote fragments, statistics and factoids. The seed of truth is thus both nurtured and refashioned, bolstered with rhetoric, even distorted and skewed if need be; it has become an egg, waiting to hatch.
The bright shining egg is next presented to the candidate for briefing, approval, and clarification. If the candidate approves, focus groups group. Speechwriters prep and polish. Campaign trails are mapped out. Neckties are chosen.
The new talking point now added to his arsenal, the candidate steps to the stump, and, one after another, TP's begin to fly: "my opponent voted to raise your taxes 350 times"; "three million jobs have been lost under the Bush administration"; "National Journal named Senator Kerry the most liberal senator of all." Research and gut instinct notwithstanding, the fledgling talking point is cast forth with more hope than confidence, for at this point it is still unproven and vulnerable to prey. This is the crucial point. The fickle press can either ignore the fresh talking point, which may then fall ingloriously by the rhetorical wayside -- or it can decide it looks like a live one and deserves feeding.