Let’s Hear It for the Lowly Sound Bite!

In which it is amply demonstrated that the sound bite, long a pariah of pundits and pooh-bahs, is really a help meet to man

In preparation for election day, voters could spend countless hours calculating the relative merits of Mr. Dole and Mr. Clinton. But unless you are the kind of person who can analyze stacks of newspaper files and Congressional testimony, your decision will almost certainly be made on the basis of sound bites.

This, says author Robert Wernick, is not necessarily a bad thing. A technical term lifted from radio and TV studios, a "sound bite" as it is now used in public discourse might well be defined as a device used by wicked people to reduce complex issues to simple formulas in order to sway public opinion. Only take away the adjective "wicked," Wernick argues, and you have a definition of one of the oldest and most honorable devices known to man.

Sound bites may be wise or foolish, fiercely partisan or universally accepted, but for better or worse they have moved history along. In his article, Wernick steps up to defend the much beleaguered sound bite, and to explore its history, from "Veni, Vedi, Vici" to "Turn on, tune in, drop out," from "To the victor belong the spoils" to "The economy, stupid."

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