According to CBS News ("Did Hillary Mean It?", 8/27/2008):
In her speech to the Democratic convention Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton urged fellow Democrats to vote for Barack Obama, and she did it in no uncertain terms — verbally.
But did her body language match her words?
Body language expert and former FBI agent Joe Navarro says he doesn't think so.
Navarro, who is the author of several popular books on body language, told the co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez on today's Morning Show that in Clinton's speech, "the gestures — the non-verbals that give us the emotion — really weren't there." For example, he said that
"One of the things that you see is she has very limited hand gestures. And we look for hand gestures to tell us what's important. So, when we see them out, when we see them up, this is significant. And we saw them just a few times last night, but not enough. This was not an impassioned speech."
In fact, Navarro's most recent book says (p. 226) that " lack of arm movement and lack of emphasis are suggestive of deception."
But neither Navarro nor CBS give us any numbers, And I happen to have a free half hour, so even though it's the middle of the afternoon, let's do a little Breakfast Experiment™.
Example #1: Hillary Clinton's speech to the DNC Convention in Denver, [date], on YouTube here.
She starts the speech around 3:39, and I counted what looked to me like significant hand gestures for ten minutes, up to 13:39. My count of 55 is probably low, since the camera often cut away from her, or showed her just from the shoulders up.
Example #2: Hillary Clinton's Super Tuesday speech, 2/5/2008, available on YouTube here.
She finally quiets the crowd and gets started on her speech at about 0:52. In the next ten minutes, I counted 31 significant hand gestures.
Your mileage may vary — for example, in neither clip did I count gestures where she just shifted her hands on the podium, shuffled her papers, etc.; and when she made a gesture involving a continuous repeated or oscillatory motion, I counted the whole thing as a single gesture rather than registering a separate count for each oscillation.
However, I think it's very unlikely that a recount will show a lower rate of hand gestures in Denver last night, compared to Super Tuesday in New York.
So what does this result — 5.5 gestures/minute in Denver, vs. 3.1 gestures/minute in New York — mean to Mr. Navarro and to Maggie Rodriguez, who interviewed him on the CBS News Early Show?
Well, the plain implication of the experiment, if you believe what Mr. Navarro says about hand gestures, is that Senator Clinton was *more* sincere and *more* impassioned in Denver than in New York. But obviously Navarro and Rodriguez don't believe that. For Rodriguez, it wouldn't fit the procrustean narrative that she (along with the rest of the mass media) have decided to impose on current events. And in Navarro's case, I don't imagine that he has much of an opinion one way or the other; he's just playing the role of supplying expert support for the current journalist narrative, while plugging his latest book.
If Navarro or Rodriguez believed the business about hand gestures, and cared about the truth of the matter, presumably they'd have counted — or at least, had some of the (I suppose) dozens of CBS News interns and production assistants do the counting. The fact that they didn't suggests a variant on the old joke:
Q: How do you tell when ___ is lying?
A: Their lips are moving.
This is unfair, because people like Maggie Rodriguez are certainly not lying, in the sense of saying things that they know to be false. Rather, they apparently just don't care, one way or the other, whether what they say is true.
This conforms exactly to the category of speech acts for which the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has proposed the technical term bullshit:
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.
So you'd have to amend the joke to start: "How do you know when a network co-anchor is bullshitting?"
The study of gesture is complicated, and serious gestural transcription is difficult. I can't rule out the possibility that there might be ways to characterize and quantify the gestures in Senator Clinton's Denver speech that would support the conclusions in the CBS story, and I can't be sure that Mr. Navarro isn't basing his opinions on some (intuitive and informal) analysis of this kind.
My own intuitive and informal impression didn't agree — I thought that Senator Clinton gave a good performance, and presented every appearance of sincerity and enthusiasm, within the range of emotional states that she generally deploys. I freely admit that I might be wrong about this. Maybe there's a way to code her gestures and body language that would show that she really didn't mean it, or didn't mean us to believe that she meant it, or something like that. But I very much doubt that Joe Navarro has evidence that would convince me. More important, I'm pretty sure that Maggie Rodriguez doesn't actually care a bit one way or the other.