Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Funny Video: Stephen Colbert Asks Congressman Westmoreland: "What are the Ten Commandments?"

Studies have shown that you can tell people's true feelings in "micro-expressions" that flash across a face for less than a 15th of a second.

"These expressions tend to be very extreme and very fast," said Paul Ekman, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and an expert in the physiology of emotion and nonverbal communication. "Eighty to 90 percent of people we tested don't see them." (link)

Here are a few microexpressions captured in this video where Stephen "I've got Balls!" Colbert interviews Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. (click on any photo to see the video. Total time: 4:26, Windows video) See if you spotted all Westmoreland's microexpressions.

First the "George W. Bush" Smug smirk. The "You can't touch me" look.

Next the "Here's my cute little answer for you." Mr. Fake TV Reporter

Then Colbert asks him to name the ten commandments, after all he co-sponsored a bill that would have requiring display of the ten commandment in the house of representatives and the senate.

I didn't quite catch the widening of the eyes, the fear that flashed across his face, but this frame is close.

Colbert holds up his fingers to mark the successful recitation of each one.

Looking up and to the left, this is where most people's eyes go when they are trying to recall something or are making something up (or just plain lying). A good reporter looks for these expressions when talking to politicians.

Now notice how he gets two of the big ones, and is hoping the teacher will cut him some slack for trying and let him off the hook. Maybe even lead him into the "right" answer with a leading question. Of course most "good" MSM reporters would have done this almost unconsciously. It is part of the timid script they are expected to follow in their quest for "balance". They would never do what Colbert did. Why make him look like an idiot? You might need access to him again some day because you HAVE to keep coming back to him. It is your job. Not exposing the idiot. Just getting his quote.

People have an OLD idea of how the press does their job with politicians based on the days of beating up Clinton. They don't do it for Republicans because they will get harassed for it and punished with loss of access. See Eric Boehlert's great book, Lapdogs for documentation of this.

He gets one! "Don't Murder."

He gets another, "Don't lie." Good one for a Congressman to know and follow.

Still searching his brain, hoping the teacher will excuse him and ask one of the other boys.

He gets a third, "Don't steal." Yet another one good for a Republican Congressman (or any party for that matter) to remember.

That's it. That's all he can remember. Clearly this shows just WHY they should be up in the halls of Congress. That is why he co-sponsored his bill. (See, I'm helping him out with his spin here, just like a good main stream reporter or talk show host.)

And I especially love his "What do you expect of me? I'm an idiot!" look.

I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of microexpressions of politicians. I'd like to thank Crooks and Liars for hosting the video and Paul Ekman for his groundbreaking work on documenting how observant people can tell when they are being lied to.

What is especially interesting about Ekman's work is how many people CAN'T figure this out. People THINK they are a good judge of this, but most aren't. If you have seen his videos you can train yourself to better spot these microexpressions.

And finally, a brief Vulcan hand sign to a friend who is away from home but is still checking in on Spocko's Brain. Glad you are checking in and hope you can see the video.


betmo said...

i watch stephen 'religiously'- and i can't figure out exactly why these folks continue to go on his show. he doesn't hide what his show is- do they need the camera and exposure that bad? do their flunkies not watch ahead of time? do they think that they are indeed quicker of wit than he? they should be embarrassed for being so arrogant and ignorant.

5:42 PM  
spocko said...

Good point Betmo. (Do you have a sister Bevmo? But I digress).

I think that in the beginning with some of these shows that was the excuse. I remember Ali G was unknown and people didn't get that he was putting on an act and mocking them. But they wised up and it got harder to fool someone.

Based on this clip I think the Congressman figured he could out think him, and based on the person I think if he was told he was going to meet, he probably thought he could handle it with no research because he had "a good sense of humor" (i.e. fart jokes that his staff laff at ) and it would be fine.

I just wish I could have captured the EXACT frame where he suddenly thought "OH SHIT! He's really asking me this questions!"

I'll bet if you talked to his staff they would say that the congressman was "just playing along" and 'Of COURSE he knows all the commandments, he just thought it would be funnier if he pretended NOT to know them."

Because I know they wouldn't admit their boss was busted nor would they admit a mistake or a failure to do any kind of pre meeting research.

On the other hand they might have been lulled into complacency by the standard media that ask the standard questions which they were prepared for. Notice how he spit out his comment about cutting the Department of Education so quickly? That was a boilerplate answer that the regular media might have asked. But Colbert's question to "Dig deeper" revealed that he didn't expect any real questions, especially from the "Fake news guys".
this is a mistake that a lot of slow witted politician's make. They think that funny people can't be smart. Actually I've found that some of the smartest people I know are funny. Granted, it is a different kind of intelligence.
The arrogant think, "Funny = Not Smart and Silly".
They probably think that Dumb and dumber was put together by stupid people.
$127,175,354 (USA)
$246,200,000 (WorldWide)
$63,600,000 (USA)
$436,975,354 Total to date.
$420,975,354 almost 1/2 a billion dollars.

It's a COMEDY about dumb people, but wasn't written by stupid people.

Colbert is a comedy show about a conservative, it isn't a conservative show.

Finally, I'm also betting that he did better in parts of the interview, but they of course didn't use that. Imagine if the media did the same thing. They didn't take the 12 second sound bite but the ACTUAL stuttering, non sequiturs ALL The time with the president. They would provide a very different picture of the president. But their desire to be "balanced" doesn't actual extend to balancing the quotes they get showing the good AND the Bad in news casts. Say the president (for the sake of argument slips up 50 percent of the time. Do they show 50 percent of his clips with his mistakes? NO.
They show 90 percent of his best answers. 10 percent they DO show him stumbling, but it is NOT related to how often he says something stupid.

6:23 PM  
betmo said...

colbert is better than just smart- he is intelligent- he is a satirist. talented and funny. you could string together any of bush's clips and i defy you to find any where he actually sounds smart. he can pass for competent but i think it would be pushing it on the smart thing. he is barely funny and the only reason anyone snickers is because he is the president- or because they are actually laughing at him. trust me- conservatives do not have a sense of humor of any kind. i think that their faces would crack if they laughed and meant it.

4:25 PM  
Eli said...

Based on this clip I think the Congressman figured he could out think him, and based on the person I think if he was told he was going to meet, he probably thought he could handle it with no research because he had "a good sense of humor" (i.e. fart jokes that his staff laff at ) and it would be fine.

There's no shortage of arrogance in the Republican party. They all think *they* won't get tripped up, 'cuz they're Teh Smart.

Nothing more pathetic or frustrating than a stupid person who thinks they're smart...

2:34 PM  
Eli said...

I should also mention that I'm a Jewgnostic, and I'm pretty sure I could name at least 6 or 7.

5:03 PM  
Jim said...

The correct answer would have been "If me and the others members of congress could quote the ten commandments, we wouldn't need them on display"

Sadly he's an idiot who thinks he's not- much like most of the members of congress

9:24 PM  
spocko said...

Eli: Jewgnostic? What does that mean? (And I expect a funny snappy answer! Or photo! Seeing as you are a talented media guy. What would be a good photo of a Jewgnostic?

Jim; Yeah that would have been nice. I almost always give people the benefit of the doubt in situations like that where they are surprised. Not everyone can be Mr. Smooth on TV. But COME ON!
I really am curious about the story behind this clip. I wonder how their PR people are going to spin it. Or the people who voted for him, 'He was tricked! Sneaky Liberal media!'

Betmo: I love when David Letterman runs a clip about Bush "telling a joke that isn't really a joke".
He laughs at his own "non-jokes" and expects others to laugh at them because he's the decider.

I'll bet you that the jokes that he tells to his staff after hours are cruel ones. Think of your meanest frat boy jokes you have ever heard. I'll bet they are in his repertoire.

Actually that would be an interesting study. The jokes of George W. Bush. Not the ones scripted for him, but the ones he tells when he has to come up with one by himself. I'll look into it.

9:52 PM  
Eli said...

Jewish agnostic. Pretty straightforward, really. Like "semi-semitic".

4:47 AM  
Anonymous said...

I know I am going to spell this incorrectly, but if you recall a movie called "Konyaniquatsi" which means "world out of balance" in a native american language, much of the film was shot in slow motion and there are quite a few street scenes, etc. where the microexpressions are striking. Most often there is a hostile glare when the people first make eye contact.

Just off the top of my head...

Thou shalt not:



Bear false witness

covet thy neighbor's wife (or ass or house)

have any other gods before me

make any graven images

use the Lord's name in vain

Thou shalt:

honor thy mother and father

remember the sabbath an keep it holy

I might have confused one or two, but that's pretty good for an incipient codger.

10:09 AM  
Eli said...

"Koyaanisqatsi". My favorite movie of all time (my worldview is rather... bleak). And yes, the slo-mo people are truly creepy - a kind of soulless emptiness, and the 70s clothes aren't helping...

1:52 PM  
Anonymous said...

Not all right wingers are ill-prepared: Ann Coulter went to the Tonight Show armed with her own cheering section.


Her plants “arrived early and positioned themselves under audience microphones for maximum effect.” In addition, “The group was loud, applauding and shouting ‘we love you Annie’,” one source said.

One member of Coulter’s audience revealed on a right-wing website (, that organizers of their group arrived at 6 am, to secure positions for the best place in the audience, this for a show that tapes at 5pm.

The effectiveness of this group was enhanced by the fact that Jay Leno asked the audience before the show to refrain from heckling or booing.

3:04 PM  

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