Some reporters covering President Obama’s first high-tech town hall yesterday apparently found it boring. Which raises the question: What excites the press corps? Well, top of the list would be itself, of course.
We’ll start with Frank James, who liveblogged the town hall for Tribune’s Washington bureau. Ten minutes in, he wrote: “The second question is on homeownership. Obama talks about how his administration’s efforts are making more refinancings possible. Is it lunchtime yet?”
When it was over, he concluded: “This was just plain boring and too predictable. [A] colleague says the problem is less the format than the president. He’s a policy wonk who doesn’t turn to humor very often. He also doesn’t present the opportunity for entertaining malaprops that Bush did. So there wasn’t that potential for entertainment either.”
By contrast, here’s Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza yesterday: “The biggest story coming out of President Obama’s prime-time press conference earlier this week wasn’t his defense of his economic plans or his plea for patience from the American public.
“It was the reporters he called on and, as importantly, those he didn’t.”
And here is The Washington Post’s Lois Romano asking the tough questions of a somewhat appalled White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Romano: “President Obama turned the longstanding press conference tradition on its head [Tuesday] night by bypassing the major newspapers. What do you think about the reaction to that?”
Gibbs: “I haven’t focused on it. I think what the President has done is call on a wide variety of people and bring people that aren’t used to covering a President of the United States into the East Room to ask questions of me or ask questions of him and this administration, and I think that’s healthy for democracy….”
Romano: “The teleprompter changed [Tuesday] night. What was that about? It’s a big Jumbotron now….”
Gibbs: “Can I tell you this? I am absolutely amazed that anybody in America cares about who the president picks at a news conference or the mechanism by which he reads his prepared remarks….”
Romano: “You’re saying this is all Washington Beltway stuff?”
Gibbs: “I don’t think I should implicate the many people who live in Washington.”
Former Bush speechwriterMichael Gerson, of all people, defends Obama’s use of a teleprompter in his Washington Post opinion column today.
Gerson writes that “it is a mistake to argue that the uncrafted is somehow more authentic. Those writers and commentators who prefer the unscripted, who use ‘rhetoric’ as an epithet, who see the teleprompter as a linguistic push-up bra, do not understand the nature of presidential leadership or the importance of writing to the process of thought….
“The speechwriting process that puts glowing words on the teleprompter screen serves a number of purposes. Struggling over the precise formulations of a text clarifies a president’s own thinking. It allows others on his staff to have input — to make their case as a speech is edited. The final wording of a teleprompter speech often brings internal policy debates to a conclusion. And good teamwork between a president and his speechwriters can produce memorable rhetoric — the kind of words that both summarize a historical moment and transform it…
“A teleprompter speech represents the elevation of writing in politics. And good writing has an authenticity of its own.”
And James Poniewozik writes for Time about the other inanities occupying the press corps these days: “By now you know the problems with President Obama’s media strategy. He’s too somber. Also, he laughs too much. He needs to get out and communicate more. And he’s doing too much TV. He’s overly professorial. And too fluffy. He needs to be a calm, grownup voice. And he needs to share taxpayers’ rage. But, you know — calm their rage too.”
Poniewozik concludes that “these controversies are either surrogates for political arguments or another way the press plays the news-cycle game. Did the President win the interview, or did he lose it?“