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Talking points are suggestions given to different campaign and political party operatives as points that are thought to resonate soundly with constituents and present a candidate or issue in a favorable way. Thus, talking points may be given to staff members or even those independent of, but sympathetic to, a certain political philosophy. Talking points have the ability to keep a focused message, but are often criticized as being nothing more than "marching orders" for those who cannot come up with their own ideas.
The benefits of talking points are that they keep a focused message in the forefront for the American people. The news media, for example, can only report on what people are talking about. If their sources are all talking about the same things, then that is naturally what gets reported. Thus, it can be the single most effective way to frame a debate.
Many times, talking points are distributed through what is known as a talking points memo. These memos may be distributed on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how fast a situation is developing. A talking points memo may address one issue, or a number of issues. Usually, this depends on the political climate at the time and what is dominating the news cycle.
The rules of what can go into a talking points memo are varied and will mainly depend on the author. It may offer general guidelines on what to discuss and how to discuss it, or it may get much more specific. In fact, talking points may even dictate which phrases and terms to use when dealing with the media.
While talking points may be a sound public relations strategy, many may wonder if they even exist. Many political parties, presidential administrations and other such organizations deny giving their operatives rules for interviews. However, for those who want to truly judge that, the key is to watch the news and political talk shows. If different people, arguing the same basic philosophy, seem to be using the same arguments and same phrases, it is probably because a talking points strategy was employed.
Some argue that talking points can make for a boring interview because it does not give the person being interviewed a true chance to let his or her personality show. If an interviewer suspects the answers are being aided by talking points and wishes to illicit more off-the-cuff comments, it is that interviewer's responsibility to intervene. That may be by asking unusual questions or pressing for further details.