Reading Between Their Lines
"It's not unusual to find a sound truck in front of my house with a satellite dish," says Professor of Communication Studies Joseph "Just Joe" Tuman. "This month alone I've done 25 TV appearances, 12 radio appearances, and I just got off the phone with a Baltimore station."
With the presidential race nearing the finish line, it's high season for Tuman, political analyst for CBS5 television and KCBS radio. He's been in demand on airwaves across the country since 1984, when he launched his punditry career as one of CNN's two "talking heads" (his term) for the presidential debates, parsing the rhetorical maneuvers behind the messages. Every day he dashes out the door with an extra suit and tie, eager to expose stump-speech strategizing for viewers of the nightly news.
Tuman loves talking to his students just as much. "What I do in the classroom influences my broadcasting," he says.
"I try not to preach, not to persuade anyone to adopt my own beliefs. The model I follow is giving people tools to reach their own conclusions."
Those tools are readily available in Tuman's newest book, "Political Communication in American Campaigns" (Sage, '08), which dissects addresses by, among its most timely figures, Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton. And Tuman is busier than ever during what he sees as a pivotal race in American culture.
"People are gloomy," he says. "They're bothered by how the U.S. is seen in other parts of the world. They feel marginalized by the weakness of the dollar, the subprime mortgage crisis, the price of gas, the unavailability of health care. They're worried."
The Republicans, he says, are speaking to a more fragmented audience: "If McCain wins, it will be because he expands the party's reach to moderates." Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton are "both formidable."
"But what's made Obama different in how he's used this word ‘hope,'" says Tuman, who has worked as a speechwriter. "That word ‘hope' is … a way to reach out to new voters, those who are gloomy." The ways politicians reach out have changed in this age of YouTube, blogs, and other new media -- developments Tuman finds encouraging. "The Internet makes reaching voters accessible and cheap," he says. "If it brings more people into the process, it's a good thing."
At SF State, Tuman's classes draw crowds of their own. "He's willing to talk about things other people might be afraid to," says undergrad Kristina Schulman, who found Tuman's The Rhetoric of Terrorism course so stimulating that she volunteered as a teaching assistant the next semester. "You want to go to class because he's so insightful."
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