Watchdog Blog

Dan Froomkin: That’s Entertainment!

Posted at 11:54 am, March 27th, 2009
Dan Froomkin Mug

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.”

Over at, I’ve been writing a lot lately about the growing disconnect between Obama and the inside-the-Beltway media and political elite. See also Eric Alterman, among others.

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?

6 Responses to “That’s Entertainment!”

  1. Tom says:

    In Ed Henry’s recap of his heroic mano a mano with the President said, “I was heading into this event with the same strategy: make news on something unexpected.” Then he said, “I was doing my job — and he was doing his.”

    Really? A White House reporter’s job is to “make news”?

    Some reporters will privately admit that they dream of asking the Dickinson Question: “make news” by stumping the president, making him look foolish. Ed’s own amusing view of himself is of the hero quarterback triumphantly running the ball into the end zone, arms thrown out, spiking the ball, high-fives and thumbs up all around.

    Read Henry’s sweaty recap of his heroics here: Behind the scenes: Ed Henry’s take on exchange with Obama –

  2. randy campbell says:

    The media’s endless fascination with itself and herd mentality was once mildly amusing; now I view it as annoying and potentially dangerous (see “Iraq War coverage, 2002-2006″).

    And taking the time to read Ed Henry’s breathless “there-I-was-in-the-Congo-surrounded-by-FIRE” report illustrates all that is wrong with the national press.

    Nice job Froomkin.

  3. Naomi666 says:

    Mildly tangential: I immediately flashed on a scene of “Joe d’Plumbob” heading for his favorite pub immediately after leaving his Obama-crotch-grab. Cartoon bubble over his head sez: “Man, oh man, I am The Hero! I will never have to buy another beer! Ever again! Man, this is so cool! Wait’ll the guys hear about this!”

    To Republicans, every minute is dedicated to Gotcha-ism. As for the NewzBiz, after more than 20 years of being imbedded within the GOP, there is little-to-no news-neutral reporting being done. There seems to be more and more “stylin’ the nooz”, more hacks spinning their own performance, more revisionist-historians changing the story.

    Shorter: Too many reporters are hanging the “kick me” sign on Obama’s back and gleefully high-fiving each other…

  4. Thomas says:

    Too bad Dan’s too busy kissing Obama’s ass to note that Obama is regularly choosing friendly questioners, whether liberal bloggers or former campaign staffers. Concentrating on the entertainment factor is a way of avoiding the propaganda factor. What Dan is doing is in a way worse. Which, given his performance over the last few years, was entirely predictable. He’s a hack criticizing the other hacks for not being hackish enough. What a f-ing joke.

  5. Gustav Koch says:

    Great column, Dan, especially your inclusion of Michael Gerson’s remarks regarding the thought-distilling, collaborative process of writing the speech and using the teleprompter to deliver it as written. If only to deny the press those malapropisms that distract from–and completely wipe out–the vital subject matter that is being presented! Yet how much understanding that leads to good policy AND substance is yielded by the process of writing thought into words. . .

  6. Sharon says:

    Yeah, Thomas, we get it. You don’t like Obama. Or Dan either.

    Want some cheese with that whine?

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