President Leaves Reporters & Commentators “Restless,” “Bor[ed]”

Roundup of presidential press conference reports

Was it really a surprise to reporters at both the LA Times and the New York Times that President Obama struck a different tone in his prime time news conference last night than he used when talking to Jay Leno last week? Or just a disappointment? (A drag?)

The LA Times describes the president’s tone during last night’s press conference as “often subdued, almost flat—a far cry from his vivacious appearance last week on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and found “no particularly memorable moments.”

Similarly, The New York Times’s Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney write:

Americans saw not…the jaunty and jokey president who turned up on Jay Leno

Placid and unsmiling, he was the professor in chief, offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs — often introduced with the phrase, “as I said before”— sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell.

Feeling likewise “restless,” lectured to, and eager for recess was Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, who proclaimed the president “authoritative tonight [but] also dull, and repetitive:”

O’REILLY: Do you think he wanted to be boring? We’re getting paid to do this, but I’m trying to think of somebody who worked hard all day, comes home from work, and sitting through that. I felt like I was at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and I was sitting through a boring professor, and he’s saying the same thing over and over again. Do you think he knows that…he bloviated all over the place, that he was repetitive? Do you think he knows? Does he want to do that?

KARL ROVE: I don’t know. I’ve always said I think he’s sort of an arrogant guy, and I think he thinks I’m showing how much in command I am of this material and I’m on top of it and I’m doing the right thing by reciting talking points and by saying things that are simply not true. I could not believe it tonight, we’re going to move from an era of borrow and spend to save and invest?

Rove, too, was made restless by the president, describing him as without “emotion, passion, no real connection.” And Fox’s Charles Krauthammer assessed the president as follows: “workmanlike, efficient, no gaffes, unexciting, uninspiring.”

Some additional insta-reactions on cable last night:

CNN’s WOLF BLITZER: Anderson Cooper, a lot of wonkish stuff coming up…

ANDERSON COOPER: Are you saying it was boring?

BLITZER: Not at all. I love the wonkish stuff. But viewers may hear worlds like “out-years” and they may get confused…. he was trying to project as best as he could hope that, you know while it is tough right now, everybody knows it’s tough, but the country eventually is going to get out of this economic slump and the best days are yet to come.

COOPER: Expressing confidence, he was sober, careful in what he had to say. I thought he looked tired at some point and maybe in some of the deliveries seemed a little tired…

JOHN KING: I was struck by two things, three things. The economy dominated the night…[T]he diversity of who he called on was interesting. That’s a deliberate strategy. Univision, Ebony, Stars and Stripes, three organizations not normally called on in prime time White House news conferences…He spoke for 50 minutes plus and the word Iraq was never spoken… Never mentioned the word Afghanistan…Never mentioned Osama bin Laden. Never mentioned terrorism. You want to talk about a sea change from George W. Bush, the tone, tenor and lexicon of the news conference was striking…

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann’s immediate reactions included the thought that “notably at the end there [Obama] describing this nation as the big ocean liner, which might be the fun headline out of this one” (I only see this one, from the (UK) Guardian, asking readers: “If Obama’s America is ‘not a speedboat but an oceanliner’, how would you describe Gordon Brown’s Britain?”; the answers are worth a scan). More Olbermann: “These things seem to be rounding up as presidential reassurance conferences as much as anything else.”

On NBC last night, David Gregory observed:

This is a very careful presentation from the president tonight. He spoke with the use of a teleprompter delivering the opening remarks and moderated his tone with regard to the anger he was demonstrating about the AIG bonuses…

The teleprompter also loomed large for the AP’s Ron Fournier, who leads and closes with it (not to mention the headline: “Analysis: Teleprompter telegraphs Obama caution”):

What kind of politician brings a teleprompter to a news conference?

A careful one.

President Barack Obama took no chances in his second prime-time news conference, reading a prepared statement in which he took both sides of the AIG bonus brouhaha and asked an anxious nation for its patience…

Calm. Cool. Careful.

One of the few times he summoned raw emotion came after a reporter demanded to know why it took him so long to express outrage over the AIG executive bonuses.

“It took a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Even better, he likes to have it up on the teleprompter.

(See my colleague Katia’s recent take on teleprompter talk as “something that’s very pertinent to the press corps, but isn’t something most Americans haven’t thought about much”).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.