It’s tempting to believe that with the right training, one can know the truth about someone’s inner life just by watching how they move. That temptation is stronger for some more than others. See: the archives of the New York Post.
The tabloid, like many gossip mags, has a long history of consulting body-language experts when sources with actual knowledge of the situation at hand aren’t willing or able to comment.
Most recently, the Post used one such “expert” to divine the end of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s marriage. (Jay and Be, of course, have said nothing about a decoupling, despite rumors.)
From the Post:
“I see a lot of hurt and pain here,” says Florida-based body language expert Susan Constantine. “They’re just trying to save face. They feel no emotions toward each other,” adds Constantine, who examined a video of the appearance …
Constantine went on to give the same treatment to their daughter, Blue Ivy, who is not yet 3:
Her hands are clasped in a prayer-like way. Happiness would be indicated by raised arms and an extended body. Instead, she’s making herself small. “Maybe she’s praying her parents get back together,” Constantine says.
With that in mind, here are the New York Post’s previous attempts to go where sources aren’t via the magic of body language, ranked from worst to best:
TRUTH BE TOLD, AZIZ LOOKS LIKE A LIAR
“Body-language experts say the diplomat’s recent nose-pulling, chin-scratching performance on ABC’s ‘Nightline’
is clear evidence of deception.”
Date: Dec. 11, 2002
Topic: “Nightline” interview with the former deputy foreign minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz.
Oh come on. This story is just 73 words long. We know you can do better, New York Post.
EXPERT: LAZIO FINALLY ACTING LIKE A SENATOR
“He used a figure-four leg-cross, ‘a powerful thing,’ McGraime said.”
Date: Oct. 28, 2000
Topic: A Rich Lazio and Hillary Clinton debate, during Clinton’s successful bid for a Senate seat.
Next up: a morsel of wishful thinking from the GOP-leaning paper on Hillary Clinton’s former rival for a U.S. Senate seat. Clinton, who won, faced off against Republican Rick Lazio. The Post brought in a body language expert to talk up his performance in one debate. That expert, Ray McGraime, believed that Lazio “finally looked senatorial.” Alas, not senatorial enough, it seems.
READ THEIR TICS: O RELAXED, SARGE GUARDED, GATES TRYING
“While President Obama was at ease, Sgt. James Crowley appeared defensive and Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. looked diplomatic.”
Date: July 31, 2009
Topic: The Beer Summit
President Obama, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the police officer who arrested Gates all had beer. The New York Post was there to analyze the video:
“Who looked the most comfortable is definitely Obama,” said Mary Dawne Arden, who at The Post’s request examined footage of the meeting over the Cambridge, Mass., race flap. “He had had his arms over the back of his chair like he was entertaining friends.” Arden noted that at one point, Obama even casually picked up a beer nut and munched on it — then wiped his hands on his pants. “It means he’s very relaxed. He behaved just like he’s at home,” she said. “This is where he is a master, how to deal with people.”
EXPERTS TRANSLATE BODY LANGUAGE
“Prosecutor Kenneth Starr has tons of confidence but hates being in the hot seat”
Date: Nov. 20, 1998
Topic: Ken Starr, at the impeachment hearing for President Clinton
Very soon, you will notice a theme: The Post loves to use body language experts to analyze the Clintons, along with their challengers. The proverbial golden goose for the tab’s galaxy of experts was the Clinton scandal. This edition, which comes with a sadly generic headline, is quite detailed:
“He’s projecting the utmost calm and coolness. He’s telling his story like a storyteller,” said Ellen Goldman, author of “As Others See Us: Body Movement and the Art of Successful Communication.”
Starr used what McGraime called “V-speaking” — turning his head from side to side and pausing in the middle to look down for a moment, when he addressed the Judiciary Committee.
He kept his hands down low when he was speaking, which is crucial because bringing the fingers near the face signals deception, the experts said.
BODY TROUBLE; EXPERT: LACI’S HUBBY NOT TRUTHFUL
“He’s a cold, cool cat. He’s definitely not telling the whole truth.”
Date: Jan. 30, 2003
Topic: Scott Peterson, speaking with Diane Sawyer
Before he was on death row, Peterson tried to convince America that he wasn’t responsible for the death of his wife, Laci. The New York Post’s experts weren’t convinced: “Body-language guru” Mary Dawne Arden told the paper that she thought “the way he sits, with his legs spread, his hands on his knees, facing Diane Sawyer, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m the king of the mountain.’ ”
BILL’S BODY LANGUAGE GIVES KEY CLUES IN PAULA CASE
“Clinton’s eye contact was a mess.”
Date: Dec. 11, 1998
Topic: The Paula Jones deposition in the Clinton kerfuffle.
Then there was the time the New York Post analyzed Clinton’s performance at the Jones deposition. McGrime, who seems to be the Post’s favorite Clinton-scandal body language pundit, gave the paper the following list of negative movements by the President:
*Clinton covered his mouth with his hand while reading definitions of sexual relations — an indication of doubt.
*He frequently drank water, suggesting a dry throat, which is a sign of nervousness.
*He pressed his hands into his cheeks, a “self-mutilation” cue that’s a sign of frustration.
*He crossed his arms several times, a defensive gesture he usually tries to avoid.
*When asked if he’d ever been alone with Lewinsky, he tucked in his lips and hesitated — a deception cue.
*He put his chin down and pulled it close to the body, like children do when “they’ve been caught in the cookie jar.”
*When talking about what gifts he gave to Lewinsky, he raised his brow, “an indication he’s not sure of what he’s saying.” He also used “an uncharacteristic head-scratching gesture” that implies nervousness.
THEIR BODIES BETRAY ANGER AND SHAME, EXPERT SAYS
“He looked like he was disgusted that he had to bring this out and discuss it.”
Date: May 11, 2000
Topic: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s separation announcement.
Breaking up the Clinton scandal bonanza with another instance of a political marriage on the rocks, the New York Post offered an analysis of Rudy Giuliani and then-wife Patricia Hanover during an infamous news conference announcing their separation.
Infamous, in part, because Hanover was reportedly unaware of Giuliani’s plans until he said it publicly. This one has a great headline, but frankly, we’re not sure body experts are needed to discern what’s going on at this moment. Anyway, here’s a highlight:
“He had his eyes and jaw down and that is usually an indication of shame. When a person tries to avoid eye contact, they are feeling like a punished child.”
McGraime said Giuliani’s mouth was tight, an indication “he was saying things he didn’t want to say.
“At one point, he pulled his mouth to one side, a sign of disgust, a sign that his public life had been thrust into the mainstream.
BODY LANGUAGE SAYS BILL IS STILL DEFIANT: EXPERTS
“President Clinton repeatedly gave Americans the pointy finger last night”
Date: Jan. 20, 1999
Topic: Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address.
Beware the pointy finger! If you’re a Clinton in the years 1998 and 1999, the New York Post will be there to write about your body movements. Here’s what McGrime, with whom you should be acquainted by now, thought about the speech:
“This was not a relaxed Bill Clinton, and this was not a strategy,” said McGraime.
“He used a lot of gestures he’s been trained not to use – the squint, the finger, waving his fist. These disappeared three years ago, after his Hollywood friends told him his biggest strength was his charisma,” McGraime said.
“This is not the way I would have had him talk tonight. When he goes on the offensive, as he did when he first denied the Lewinsky affair, in that ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ speech, it really worked against him.
“Tonight, he just needed to be confident.”
BLINKIN’, NOT LINCOLN; BODY LANGUAGE SHOWS CLINTON MORE NERVOUS THAN SORRY – EXPERTS
“President Clinton stuck his chin out, flared his nostrils and blinked a mile a minute — signs he was a little sorry, a little angry and terribly nervous body language experts said last night.”
Date: Aug. 18, 1998
Topic: Bill Clinton’s televised apology for the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Clinton is “less powerful” and “more apologetic” because he turned his chin to the right in his famous national apology, according to the New York Post. And an expert named Jan Hargrave offered this tidbit: “There’s only one honesty gesture — it’s taking your right hand and putting it to your heart, and he did not do that.”
BODY LANGUAGE OK, BELIEVE IT OR NOD
“Their faces were only a couple of inches from each other.”
Date: June 28, 2008
Topic: Whether Obama and Hillary Clinton like each other or not.
This body language expert piece, from none other than Maggie Haberman, comes to the conclusion that Obama and Hillary were fine with each other after a bruising primary season back in 2008. Their expert seems to think that in fact, they really, really are fond of each other’s company:
Both had “low blink rates,” Tecce said, meaning they weren’t blinking their eyes rapidly – a sign that they “both were very content with what was going on” because they had relaxed muscles.
But that closeness didn’t paint the whole picture, Tecce said.
“I think they both have a strong emotional connection, which surprised me,” he noted. “I’d not seen this before. But I think they both have some limited intellectual appreciation for [each other].”
WHERE IS THE LOVE? J.LO AND MARC ANTHONY CAN’T LOOK EACH OTHER IN THE EYE; THEIR EYES WIDE SHUT
“It doesn’t look as if she has the kind of passion she had with Ben Affleck. You can’t fake it. If it’s not there, it’s not there!”
Date: Feb. 15, 2005
Topic: The J. Lo-Marc Anthony performance at the Grammys.
This pretty thorough takedown of a They-Lo duet concluded that the relationship was over. A classic of the genre, with a bonus Patti Wood appearance:
“I’ve watched it several times,” says body language expert Patti Wood, “and it’s not a normal duet. Normally, they’d be singing to each other, they’d play off each other.
“He made some attempts to connect. Once he walked over to put his hand on her shoulder, only he didn’t even get the shoulder — he got hair!”
HE DOESN’T ACT LIKE HE’S A MADMAN, EXPERT SAYS
Date: Dec. 14, 2001
Topic: Osama Bin Laden.
The Post consults a forensic expert about the state of Osama bin Laden’s mind, just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The inevitable happens:
“His facial expressions and body language clearly show him to be a person who is smug, jubilant, boastful, and thankful to Allah for the success of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks that resulted in destruction and ‘enemy casualties’ that far surpassed his anticipation.”
MADONNA & CHILD — MINI-MATERIAL GIRL, 9, IS LOURDES OF HER WORLD
“The way she’s standing shows that she may be coming into early womanhood.”
Date: March 15, 2006
Topic: Madonna’s 9-year-old daughter.
REMEMBER: Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon was 9 when the Post asked expert Maxine Lucille Fiel about her. Among the gems: “The swinging of the handbag is a symbol of her independence and early womanhood. That’s the thing. It’s right in your face.”
HER BODY TALK CRIES: ‘I LONG FOR HIM’
“She communicates a kind of vulnerability and at the same time sexual interest.”
Date: March 4, 1999
Topic: Monica Lewinsky’s television interview.
Although “blinkin’, not Lincoln” is a wonderful piece, we posit that the best of the Clinton scandal body language analysis is “her body talk cries.” It takes on the impossible task of determining whether one human being is in love with another human being, who isn’t actually present in the room. At least one expert said he was up for going on the record with this ask:
“She really longs for him. When she talks about him, her face lights up, and it becomes seductive again,” said John Dovidio, a psychology professor at Colgate University.
“Even though he’s not there, her behavior becomes flirtatious, she tilts her head, she smiles, she raises one eyebrow.
“It’s clear that she’s got deep feelings for this man. Those feelings haven’t diminished,” he said.
‘SORRY’ STATEMENT A REAL BOGEY: EXPERTS
“I have seen hostages look more relaxed and genuine than Tiger did,”
Date: Feb. 20, 2010
Topic: Tiger’s apology.
IS TIGER WOODS REALLY SORRY? This is the question the New York Post put to experts. A “crisis-control expert” named Robert Zimmerman repeatedly compared the apology to a “hostage tape.” Mary Dawne Arden said he had an “awful deer-in-the-headlights look.” But the best part is that the paper actually found another, competing expert to completely disagree: Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who identified himself as a “fellow sex addict,” said he thought Woods was “sincere.”
GRUNGEBOB – SPONGEBOB GAY? GIVE THIS SQUARE SOME ROUGH EDGES; SCRUB SPONGEBOB’S LESS-THAN-MACHO IMAGE
“He shouldn’t smile nearly as much.”
Date: Jan. 25, 2005
Topic: Whether Spongebob Squarepants is too effeminate or not, basically.
Remember when James Dobson said he thought Spongebob Squarepants was a tool of the “pro-homosexual” agenda? While not entirely a body-language analysis, this look at how Nickelodeon could make Spongebob Squarepants — a children’s cartoon character — appear more manly does consult THE Patti Wood on how the pineapple under the sea resident should carry himself:
“SpongeBob should watch old John Wayne movies and see how he holds his arms away from his body – very manly and macho,” she said.
Looking or staring more aggressively would also make him more of a He Sponge, she said. And he shouldn’t smile nearly as much.
“What I find fascinating,” Wood added, “is that what’s feminine is also perceived as more friendly, while what’s masculine is perceived as strong or aggressive.” SpongeBob’s creator, she says, was “probably after a friendlier, but not necessarily feminine sponge.”