As I have pointed out in previous columns, this has been a major problem for Barack Obama. By contrast, when Franklin Roosevelt made a speech, reports in the next day’s newspapers would say what he had said, usually on the front page. When he held his twice-weekly meetings with reporters, he could count on most of them writing about the main points he had made during the meeting. Thus, even though 90 percent of the newspaper’s editorial pages denounced Roosevelt, his message was always able to reach the people.
Now Obama finds accounts of his speeches are usually buried on inside pages, and usually begin not with quotations of the president, but with the author’s “take” on the speech. And even the body of the article often contains only a sentence or two from the speech, with the rest of it devoted to the author’s views on its context and its political significance.
What reporters decide is the “sexy” item in a speech or news conference will dominate the media accounts. Thus when Obama, in a press conference on July 20, 2009, as the health care bill had begun to make its way through Congress, made a major effort to reassure seniors who feared that reform might reduce their Medicare coverage, his words were almost totally ignored in the next day’s account. What was emphasized was his response to a question at the end of the press conference about the Cambridge police’s treatment of Henry Louis Gates Jr. Of course, that answer was news. But it should not have preempted everything else said in the press conference, including what the president had wanted to emphasize—and the public had a right and a need to hear.
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