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Speaking in soundbites – Any other alternative?

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This is the age of the soundbite. Reagan vastly oversimplified things by proclaiming "Let’s make America great again," and proceeded to beat Jimmy Carter with his apparently sincere optimism in such an oversimplification. As much as I opposed Reagan’s taking his throne, his "Let’s make America great again" slogan hit a chord with millions of Americans, but rang hollow with me. Twenty-seven years later, in the above campaign ad, Hillary Clinton proclaims "You’re not invisible to me," which likely will resonate with millions once again, and which seems to have more substance than Reagan’s campaign slogan, as much as I am not enthralled by any of the presidential candidates.

I don’t want soundbite campaigning. I want more relevant and honest details. Yet, when interviewed by television and radio interviewers, I ordinarily answer each question with a soundbite followed by detail. This way, no matter where the interviewer or editor cuts me off, I end on a high note. I feel like the news industry has helped to dumb down the medium by leaving interviewees feeling little choice than to answer questions with soundbites followed by detail.

In trial, I usually get to a soundbite early on in opening argument. In a murder trial, I might start off with "That’s not what happened. Here’s what happened…" In a snitch-riddled trial, I might say "Each snitch is in a dark and bleak hole so deep that the light of day is miles away, and the snitch is surrounded by muck and nasty creatures and hopelessness and loneliness; and the prosecutor’s plea offer is the only rope being dangled before the snitch." In a drunk driving trial, I might say "At all times, Jack was standing straight, standing sober, standing innocent." At trial, if one side does not use effective slogans, themes, theories, and word pictures, the other side will, to the detriment of the silent side. The goal of simplifying the case in such a way is to give the jury an approach to finding for one’s side through recognizing that doing so is a simple and natural outcome. However, soundbites go nowhere without putting meat on those bones with effective and convincing storytelling where the story is told at all stages of trial.

Consequently, I harmonize my use of soundbites at trial on the one hand with my heavy aversion to soundbites outside the courtroom by recognizing that proceeding with them can help my client, and that proceeding without them will harm my client. Jon Katz.