BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now back to the camera angles on this week's State of the Union address. It offered the usual views of a divided chamber, showing partisan enthusiasm-- [APPLAUSE]
GEORGE W. BUSH: Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year.... [APPLAUSE] The terrorist threat-- [APPLAUSE] The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. [APPLAUSE/CHEERS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The camera work also included well-timed cuts to the usual suspects on key issues, like the glimpse of a disdainful Senator Kennedy when the president cited his commitment to prescription drug coverage. There was, as always, the general sense that the people behind the cameras were operating with a copy of the speech, a seating chart, and a game plan. But who makes the plan? As we heard, at least one listener suggests that some of the camera work seemed politically biased. Well, it turns out that the job of producing this annual piece of political theatre works on a rotation basis among the networks. This year ABC drew the short straw, and Peter Doherty was the producer in charge. Peter, welcome to the show.
PETER DOHERTY: Well, thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How far ahead of time do you get the speech, and how much time do you have to actually plan your shots?
PETER DOHERTY: Well, not very much. The White House typically releases a speech within an hour before the actual air time, so you scramble in that last hour to see if, at various points in the test, you can find what we call in the business a cutaway shot or a, a relief shot of somebody who has some relationship to the issue being discussed by the president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the cameraman is actually following a script, then, however hastily written, for where he should direct the camera, when.
PETER DOHERTY: Not exactly a script. What would do is, I sit down with the pool director -- in this case, Larry Kamm, who is one of the best in the business, and we make a couple of quick, one-word or two-word notes to ourselves that at this point in the speech might be a good time to try for any one of three or four people, and part of the issue is -- can the cameras actually see them? And one of the things that was disappointing this year was, there was a section in the speech on Afghanistan, and one of our cameramen had happened to locate the Afghani diplomatic representative, and we sort of marked mentally in our minds -- Okay, we know he's over there, and camera so and so has him. And when the time came in the speech, the director said "Hey, Hank" - Hank Dissocampos, the cameraman - "Hey, Hank, go get the Afghani diplomatic representative." And Hank shook his camera back and forth indicating no. Hank couldn't talk back, because he was on the floor. So it took Larry a second to realize -- "Oh, Hank -- did he move?" And then Hank shook his camera in the affirmative. [LAUGHTER] Now this is not on the air -- this is a shorthand that the cameraman uses to the director. And sure enough, apparently what had happened is that after they were seated, either he or the State Department liaison realized there was a better seat, and they gave it to him.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is like herding cats, isn't it.
PETER DOHERTY: It's more like trying to find the right cat in a crowd of 550 or 60 cats.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Okay. What happens when you focus on the wrong cat? Like when you cut to the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady when the president mentioned steroid abuse -- the NFL has strict rules against steroid use, and that closeup has apparently provoked an angry response from the NFL.
PETER DOHERTY: We weren't trying to particularly tie him to the steroid issue. In fact, I -- I must tell you, it's very busy in the truck, and sometimes [LAUGHTER] when you're glancing from one monitor to another, you're never quite sure exactly what's on the line unless you're staring right at it. In that section of the speech, the president was talking about the relationship of athletes and sports heroes to youth. The administration had invited him, and we thought "Gee, this is an appropriate time to show him," and one of the things I try very hard to do is to make sure that we try to strike a balance. For example, during the speech, we showed not only the loyal opposition, but we also showed a number of Republican leaders and the administration people. We showed military people. We showed a lot of the people that were in the first lady's gallery who had been brought because they had a stake in a, a certain part of the speech.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I take your point about what you're trying to do, but do you ever have anybody in there who's a little waggish, who's scanning the audience for the sleeping senator or the glazed eyes of a military officer--
PETER DOHERTY: No.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- I mean because otherwise you're basically just illustrating the president's speech, and there is a dynamic going on that is other than merely what the president's script wants you to see.
PETER DOHERTY: Our mission, I believe, is to show the audience as much as you can of what is going on in the room. We showed Senator Kennedy a couple of times. Right as we took him, I think the last time we put him up, he started sort of rubbing his fingers down his chin, almost in a gesture of ill will, but really not. If you looked at it, you could see that he was just sort of scratching his face. And when it happened, I immediately said on the conference call that I have to the pool members, "We didn't plan that, folks. That's just what he started doing the minute we took that shot." We had a shot of Congressman Rangel, and somebody said to me, "Gee, he looked like he was asleep." And I said "No, many members have in their hands a copy of the speech," and I didn't have a wide enough shot to show -- he was looking down at his speech.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this is an instance, as with the NFL quarterback, when bad camera timing happens to good people.
PETER DOHERTY: I, I really would say that. None of this is a deliberate effort. Frankly, people who think that are giving us far too much planning credit. This broadcast is live; it's happening very quickly. We couldn't pull these things off on purpose if we tried. If, for example, the Democrats are not clapping, and we document that, it's to document it. It's not because we're trying to drive the point home. It's what's happening in the chamber.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Peter, thank you very much.
PETER DOHERTY: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: ABC producer Peter Doherty produced the broadcast of the State of the Union speech that we all saw on Tuesday. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, the ever-shifting sands of the Iraqi media, and a gaggle of war reporters gets confessional.