Comparison of Opening Statements from Rep. Trey Gowdy and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the House Benghazi Investigation Committee

By October 22, 2015Case Studies

The House Select Committee on Benghazi heard testimony from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R), the chair of the committee offered an opening statement, as did Sec. Clinton. It’s of interest to compare these two statements for evoking lexical impact using EffectCheck®.

Remarks by Rep. Gowdy

The full text of Rep. Gowdy’ remarks can be found here. What follows is an excerpt from the beginning of his statement:

“Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods served our country with courage and with honor. They were killed under circumstances most of us could never imagine. Under cover of darkness, terrorists poured through the front gate of our facility and attacked our people and our property with machine guns, mortars, and fire. It is important we remember how these four men died.”

When speaking to the email communications that Sec. Clinton stored on her private server, Rep. Gowdy remarked:

“This committee is the first committee, the only committee, to uncover the fact that Secretary Clinton exclusively used personal email on her own personal server for official business and kept the public record – including emails about Benghazi and Libya – in her own custody and control for almost two years after she left office. And it was Secretary Clinton’s lawyers who determined what would be returned and what would not be returned.”

Figure 1 shows an overall EffectCheck assessment of Gowdy’s remarks. As compared to typical political speech, his words evoked low confidence, compassion, and happiness, and was mostly typical in terms of anxiety, hostility, and depression.

Figure 1. EffectCheck® assessment of the overall lexical emotional impact of Rep. Gowdy’s opening remarks.

More revealing is Figure 2, which shows the results of 100-word moving windows. Gowdy’s use of compassion, confidence, and happiness is routinely low throughout his entire remarks, with the notable exception of his closing remarks.

Figure 2. EffectCheck® assessment of the lexical emotional impact of Rep. Gowdy’s opening remarks viewed in 100-word moving windows.

Sec. Clinton’s Remarks

Hillary Clinton’s opening statement can be found here. Here remarks begin as follows:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cummings, members of the committee. The terrorist attacks at our diplomatic compound and later, at the CIA post in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, took the lives of four brave Americans: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. I am here to honor the service of those four men, the courage of the Diplomatic Security agency and the CIA officers who risked their lives that night, and the work their colleagues do every single day all over the world.”

The remainder of her remarks, in part, relates a story of how Mrs. Clinton knew the late-ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the Benghazi attacks, and how she implemented recommendations from a committee formed to study how best to change State Department policies and procedures in the future.

That said, Figure 3 shows the overall lexical emotions evoked during Mrs. Clinton’s opening remarks. As compared to other political speeches, her remarks evoked high anxiety, hostility, and depression, below typical levels of confidence and compassion, and little happiness. It is unclear how this emotional profile would serve her well given her position relative to the Select Committee on Benghazi.

Figure 3. EffectCheck® assessment of the overall lexical emotional impact of Sec. Clinton’s opening remarks.

Figure 4 shows how her emotional flow changed during her remarks. Notably, there were long periods in which evoked confidence was low, but what was consistently high was her level of evoked hostility. Also, although her evoked compassion finished very high, she finished with only typical levels of confidence. That means that her closing missed evoking confidence because “typical” is measured across the content of entire political speeches; the close of virtually all political speeches has the highest levels of evoked confidence.

Figure 4. EffectCheck® assessment of the lexical emotional impact of Sec. Clinton’s opening remarks viewed in 100-word moving windows.


The contrast between the two emotional profiles of the opening remarks by Rep. Gowdy and Sec. Clinton are notably similar in terms of evoking low levels of confidence, compassion, and happiness. That’s understandable for the former prosecutor Gowdy, who would likely not want to evoke these emotions that might then be associated with the witness before his committee (Mrs. Clinton). It’s more difficult to understand why Mrs. Clinton would not have endeavored to offer more compassionate, even optimistic, language to associate with herself. It’s also difficult to understand why Mrs. Clinton would opt to evoke even greater hostility than did Rep. Gowdy. It seems unlikely that such emotions would be later associated with the amalgam of the committee asking her questions, but rather that it would be associated directly with her.