By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“Just words”

And lots of them! Barack Obama really gave a long speech tonight, didn’t he? Too long, by my estimation. He made the mistake of talking to the crowd rather than the folks back home. TV viewers were made to feel like they were watching an event rather than being spoken to.

As good a speaker as he is, I’ve thought for some time that he needs to work on his conversational skills. People don’t have the stamina to be speechified at for four years. It’s instructive that of the best presidential communicators of the television age — John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — only Kennedy, with his feet planted in two different media eras, excelled at delivering a set speech.

Reagan and Clinton, by contrast, always came off as though they were talking to you. That’s what TV demands. And Obama’s shortcoming in that area makes him seem surprisingly old-fashioned sometimes.

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  1. O-FISH-L

    Was any other channel surfer struck by the fact that Fox News was the only network showing CLEARLY the faces of what began as a largely black background audience behind Obama during his speech? Both CNN and MSNBC blurred the background audience, with CNN even alternating between the blurred background and an even more obscure split screen with the Wisconsin results. Since we know that the campaigns choreograph these scenes more strictly than the Bolshoi Ballet, I couldn’t help but wonder why CNN/MSNBC were intentionally distorting the scene. Thoughts?

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, I’m puzzled. I agree about Obama, but you think that Reagan and Clinton did not excel in stump speeches? Although JFK was better and more consistent, Reagan and Clinton each excelled in at least some speeches.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 4:26: Reagan and Clinton weren’t terrible at delivering speeches, but they weren’t in Kennedy’s class. Clinton rambled, Reagan was often maudlin. Where they really excelled was in (seemingly) intimate, conversational communication. Both, for instance, were better debaters than Obama, because they knew that those really weren’t debates — they were opportunities to talk to the people.

  4. Anonymous

    Anon 4:20 again – I guess we agree to disagree.

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