Reality Check: No Matter the State of the Union, Reporters Love Obama’s Speeches
Tuesday night, President Obama delivers his third State of the Union address, and his sixth speech to a joint session of Congress since taking office in 2009. But there’s no need to spend a lot of time wondering about what the media will say after The Great One speaks, since — like a gaggle of corporate yes-men — journalists have gushed over every one of these major addresses.
“It was a big and bold speech,” ABC’s Terry Moran applauded on Nightline shortly after Obama’s budget address in February 2009, his first before Congress. “It was his debut and he wowed us,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews enthused the next day on Hardball.
“It made me feel pretty good. I thought it was a great speech,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg gushed on Inside Washington later in the week, adding, “You know, a friend of mine said, ‘Oh my God, we have a President again!’ Now, in some ways, that’s not fair to Bush, but that’s the way you felt. You felt this was a guy who was totally in charge.”
Seven months later, in September 2009, Obama returned to the House chamber to make his pitch for government-run health care. That night on ABC, George Stephanopoulos cast him not as a central planner, but a passionate reformer: “This might have been the most emotional speech I’ve seen President Obama give....There was even a catch in his voice.... This is very close to President Obama’s heart.”
Over on MSNBC, the not-yet-fired Keith Olbermann offered a typically sycophantic take: “It was, to say the least, a broad and forward-thinking speech. On the rhetoric and the phrasing and the pacing and the design of the speech itself, there seems to have been a touch of greatness.”
For Obama’s first State of the Union address, in January 2010, then-CBS anchor Katie Couric was in full Obama-mania mode during her network’s prime time coverage. After Jeff Greenfield noted how the President went “five or ten minutes without a single applause line,” Couric chirpily cited a liberal New York Times columnist’s take: “Well, as Tom Friedman said, ‘He’s better at making us smarter than making us angry.’”
Over on MSNBC, the gang was experiencing a full Obamagasm. “If presidential leadership were only about giving speeches, the jackhammers would already be at work on Mount Rushmore,” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman exulted.
Chris Matthews oddly observed: “You know, I was trying to think about who he was tonight, and it’s interesting: He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”
In January 2011, two months after voters repudiated his liberal agenda and elected scores of new conservative House members, the media greeted Obama’s second State of the Union by claiming that the most liberal President in American history was somehow another Ronald Reagan. According to CBS’s Jeff Greenfield: “He kept talking about winning the future and that was always a big theme about Reagan....He was clearly striking rhetorical notes that reminded me of Mr. Reagan.”
Over on ABC, Christiane Amanpour delightedly called Obama’s speech both “Reaganesque” and “Kennedyesque” — “Full of sunny optimism, very Reaganesque, on and on about American exceptionalism in many, many instances and full of Kennedyesque encouragement to break a new frontier. That Sputnik moment was remarkable....”
Then in September, Obama returned once more to pitch a “jobs plan” that he claimed needed to be passed immediately, and the media once again took up the cause of spinning on his behalf. “This is an extraordinarily bold plan by the President,” CBS’s Norah O’Donnell argued, reciting the White House spin that “more than half of it will be tax cuts — tax cuts for every working American, tax cuts for every small business.”
[Of course, Obama’s “tax cuts” were temporary reductions in the payroll tax, to be offset by permanent tax increases on upper income households, a net increase in the tax burden.]
O’Donnell’s CBS colleague, Bob Schieffer, was swept away: “I mean, this is not the cool, detached college professor that some people have accused Barack Obama of being....I mean, he really went at them tonight. I mean, very — a lot of Harry Truman in this speech tonight.”
In the nearly 1,100 days since Barack Obama took office, the national debt has increased by more than 40%, from $10.6 trillion to $15.2 trillion. The federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion for three years in a row, and Obama’s last (FY2012) projections have it staying above $600 billion for at least the next ten years.
The unemployment rate is an historically terrible 8.5%, but as economics writer James Pethokoukis noted in December, the shrinking labor force has masked much of the pain: “If the labor force participation rate were back at its January 2009 level, the [unemployment] rate would be 11.0 percent.”
If the media were to focus on the dismal state of America under Barack Obama, their reviews might not be so adoring. But the track record shows they’ll likely focus on the President’s rhetoric, and find it absolutely thrilling.