Why Obama’s TV Persona is Giving Opponents Fits

President Obama is planning more primetime news conferences. It’s a very good idea as a political strategy, and perhaps explains why his opponents and media critics are having fits when it comes to the new president.


Over the last few days, Obama has appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and been interviewed by Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes.” In stark contrast to his predecessor, he betrays an ease and command of the facts in these settings that’s perhaps befitting of not only a natural politician but a president weaned in the television age, one who can segue from detailed policy discussion to adorable anecdotes about his young daughters flying aboard Air Force One or playing on their “Rolls-Royce of swing sets.”

Obama’s style is a big reason why the most outlandish charges leveled against him are only registering with his most vociferous critics, who are finding a loyal audience of like-minded viewers and readers buying into the “He’s a socialist!” because, well, they can’t understand why everyone else can’t see it, too. The more heated and strident these criticisms become, though, the more those offering them are likely to be marginalized in the eyes of public’s vast majority, to whom Obama looks like a genial if extraordinarily bright guy.

The latest head-scratching criticism directed Obama’s way is that he relies too much on a TelePrompTer, a charge that’s particularly amusing coming from certain TV and radio hosts who would be lost without a script/prompter/talking points in front of them. The assumption seems to be that he’s cheating, somehow, by sounding so polished and articulate. Yet after President Bush — who even supporters generally acknowledged wasn’t exactly a great speaker — such denunciations have the feel of splitting hairs. People want their president to sound smarter than they do, and I suspect most don’t mind if cue cards are involved to help them get there.

There’s plenty of room to disagree with Obama on policy matters, and critics on both the left and the right are second-guessing his response to the financial crisis. Political foes should remember, however, that the public’s exposure to their political leaders (and indeed, celebrities of almost any stripe) occurs through the medium of television. As he has demonstrated over the last few days, Obama is gangbusters in this vehicle — funny, resolved, tough when he has to be. Based on that TV presence, those who want to be taken seriously beyond the fringes of the tin-foil-hat crowd should choose their lines of attack accordingly.

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  1. Harold says:

    This piece has been featured at THEWEEK.com as Best Opinion!

  2. Mikey says:

    Umm Eric,
    But bush did not only speak awkwardly he led even worse. It seems easy for many to critcize Obmama after only 60 days while give W a pass for 8 years.
    Recentlty we have hear far to often that there were no attacks under Bush after 9/11 (true). Let’s not forget that Bush was in office for far more than 60 days (200 to be exact)priot to 9/11. For 60 days prior Goorge W was on vacation!
    So let’s give Obama a chance and time.

  3. hoco says:

    The question of his ability to lead ‘should have’ less to do with how comfortable he looks on camera, as you say, but it doesn’t meant that he won’t be judged on it or that it doesn’t matter. Getting his ideas across to the public via tv affects his ability to get legislation passed — so if it works, more power to him.

  4. Eric says:

    The question of a leadr’s ability to lead should have less to do with how comfortable he looks on camera than the decisions he makes while in command. This is as ridiculous a discussion as it was when W. was chided for his awkwardness on camera. Should this administration interfere with broadcast freedoms by resurrecting the “fairness doctrine”, for example, it wouldn’t matter how charming he comes across on Leno. A leader is defined by how he leads, not by how he “performs”.

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