Memory Bank: How Media Puffed 'Virtuoso' Clinton SOTU Speeches

In the hours before President Bush is pummeled about terrible approval ratings by the media and how nobody listens to him any more, let's rewind to how the State of the Union speeches in Clinton's second term weren't marred by scandal. Scandal vanished in the wake of his rhetorical brilliance: 2000: "Virtuoso, Peter. The address of a proud President, a tireless policy wonk and a very shrewd political strategist. He essentially handed Vice President Gore his campaign plan tonight. Lots of proposals that he suspects won’t pass – prescription drugs, gun control, Medicare reform – and he sets up Vice President Gore to run against a do-nothing Congress this fall, just like Harry Truman did in 1948." -- ABC political analyst George Stephanopoulos minutes after the State of the Union speech, January 27, 2000. "For many years Presidents delivered the State of the Union message in writing. Woodrow Wilson revived the tradition of delivering it in person, turning a duty into an opportunity to rally support for a President’s programs. Tonight Bill Clinton mounted the Bully Pulpit one last time as President to preach, to teach, to prod the country toward his vision of America in the 21st century." -- CBS News anchor Dan Rather concluding CBS’s State of the Union coverage, January 27, 2000.  "There was stuff in there that liberals had to love. A new federally-matched retirement program for working people who don’t have 401(k)s through their employer, that the federal government will give you $500 if you put in $500. A new federally-funded program to allow people who can’t afford those college entrance test prep courses, Stanley Kaplan kind of stuff. You know, it makes a lot of sense. Why should some people have an advantage that way?" -- Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy on the State of the Union, January 28, 2000 Washington Week in Review on PBS. 1999: "They’re just tickled pink down here. The polls show the President went up in every respect after the [State of the Union] speech last night. You know, I’ve talked to one [White House] staff member who said, ‘We worry. He never worries. He just always pulls it through’ and I noticed in the paper there was a cartoon this morning comparing President Clinton to one of these great Internet stocks, one of these dot-coms that just go way up despite the fact that there may be no value there. That’s what his critics say about him, and he just says ‘yeah, yeah’ and it goes up. The public loves it. They loved him last night and down here they’re ecstatic."-- Sam Donaldson on Good Morning America, January 20, 1999.1998: "He invited his exhausted audience to take a holiday from Lewinsky and spend a refreshing hour and 12 minutes feeling like a country again. For once the talk on the screen was not of oral sex, but of our lives and fortunes and sacred happiness. He had become all human nature, the best and the worst, standing there naked in a sharp, dark suit, behind the TelePrompTer. That which does not kill him only makes him stronger, and his poll numbers went through the roof....That may have been a miracle, but it was no accident: Americans are less puritanical and more forgiving than the cartoon version suggests, and this President is never better than in his worst moments."— Clearly infatuated Time Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs, February 9, 1998."The drumbeat of accusations in Washington registers as a dull thud here....What these five baby boomers judged Clinton on last night were his plans to rescue Social Security and help education, presidential visions of the future rather than the frenzied melodrama of the past."— NBC correspondent Roger O’Neil on reaction in Eagle, Colorado to the State of the Union address, January 28, 1998 Nightly News.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis