Obama School Talk Push Back Framed Around Exasperation Over 'Hyper-Partisan Era'

The ABC and NBC anchors on Thursday night framed stories, on the controversy over President Obama's upcoming Tuesday address to the nations' schoolchildren accompanied by a Department of Education recommendation that teachers have their students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President,” through the prism of Obama as a victim of unfair presumptions.   

“It seemed like a simple idea,” fill-in ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos sighed in offering the most benign description of how Obama's “going to kick off the school year next week by speaking directly to America's classrooms, the kind of pep talk to encourage kids to do their best.” But, Stephanopoulos noted, “the idea ran into a storm of protests. School districts across the country are fielding calls from angry parents. Some fear their kids will be forced to hear a partisan message.”

On NBC, Brian Williams declared Obama's “message will be about the importance of working hard and staying in school” and though “Presidents have done this type of thing before,” those occurred, he rued, before “this hyper-partisan era of instant and vocal outrage immediately on both the right and the left.”

(“Hyper-partisan instant and vocal outrage immediately” sounds like a perfect description for much of what's delivered by Williams' NBC colleagues at MSNBC.)

In the subsequent reports, both ABC's Jake Tapper and NBC's Kevin Tibbles pointed out the controversy was fueled by a classroom guide that originally suggested pre-K through 6th grade teachers have their kids “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President,” but that was changed to recommending students “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.” (Screen shot is from the NBC Nightly News.)

PDF of the revised “Menu of Classroom Activities; President Obama’s Address to Students Across America (PreK-6)” from the Department of Education. The item in question is under “After the Speech.”

Story from the MRC's CNSNews.com, “Revision: Education Dept. Changes Suggested Classroom Activities for Students Who Watch Obama’s Speech.” The Washington Times broke the story.

(Only Stephanopoulos on Thursday night mentioned the “finger” incident: “The fight over health care reform has gotten physical. If you thought the stories out of some of those town hall meetings couldn't get any stranger, get this. At a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, California, one reform supporter bit off half the finger of a man standing with opponents. According to the victim, he was just passing by.”)

The CBS Evening News didn't mention that event and also had nothing on the controversy over the speech to schoolchildren.

How the ABC and NBC anchors framed the speech to school kids stories on Thursday night, September 3:

George Stephanopoulos on ABC's World News:
Good evening. It seemed like a simple idea. President Obama was going to kick off the school year next week by speaking directly to America's classrooms, the kind of pep talk to encourage kids to do their best. But the idea ran into a storm of protests. School districts across the country are fielding calls from angry parents. Some fear their kids will be forced to hear a partisan message. Others are threatening to keep their children home.
Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News:
President Obama, as you may know, is scheduled to talk to American school kids next week in a speech to be carried on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN. His message will be about the importance of working hard and staying in school. Presidents have done this type of thing before, not, however in this hyper-partisan era of instant and vocal outrage immediately on both the right and the left.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center