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

Obama’s surprisingly chilly news conference

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at President Obama’s first prime-time presidential news conference — and find that despite his impressive command of facts and policies, his performance was surprisingly defensive, even chilly.

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  1. Neil

    “…though well-grounded in fact, came across at times as defensive…”How about:”…though defensive at times, he was well-grounded in fact…”Which is more important?Light touch? We’ve just had eight years of light touch. Time for a President who knows how to act like an adult for a change. We’re in an economic crisis for god’s sakes. And really, it’s time to retire the use of “whine” to describe any utterance that you are not interested in hearing.

  2. Ani

    I think Obama was cranky and annoyed, and it’s an interesting issue whether he should be hiding his emotions and his reactions (I have in mind your “‘Next time, no Mr Nice Guy'” behind the scenes — transparency, yes or no?). I do the same thing in meetings with stupid people who can’t think and try bullying instead, and no, it’s not great for accomplishing what you want, but it’s sometimes difficult to be right and tactful all at once on the fly and in the face of complicatedly wrong opposing views from pushy people of dubious intention when there’s a lot at stake. But I also agree Obama can probably learn to do better. Part of the challenge is to be graceful even under such extreme pressure. But I am glad that Obama’s emotions show through — I think what he needs to do is work through his annoyance and frustration and find a better reaction to those who oppose him that helps loosen the knots, not tighten them. Then that attitude will show through instead. But when you’re in a hurry, it’s hard to be patient with obstacles.

  3. Bill Baar

    Get used to a Rich Daley Press Conf and you’ll understand where this comes from…….turning Biden into the next Dan Quayle was strange.

  4. dbvader

    Mr. Kennedy,Have you ever written about your work for the Guardian? I listen to the BBC and am interested in how foreign nations perceive domestic politics. Also, I think your dismissal of Chuck Todd’s question was simplistic. The savings rate in the US was terrible, at or below zero. Spending was fueled by debt, which was wrapped up in the housing markets and credit cards. The lack of current lending now just exposes the extent to which consumer spending relied on debt.

  5. cavard

    I don’t think Dan Kennedy’s comment on Chuck Todd was simplistic. I thought it was spot on. I reacted the same to Todd’s question last night. It showed Todd lacked basic knowledge of economics 101. Econ professors across the nation are going to poke fun at the sheer absurdity of his question. Consumer spending is what gets us out of recessionary times, not cause it. Besides you’re letting the banks off the hook. We all know the contribution they’ve made to the mess and it’s a helluva lot more than what you’re claiming. On a sidenote, I do give credit to Helen Thomas for her question re: Israeli nukes. That was really brave of her to ask that. We need more questions like that and more people like Thomas at the press briefings, if Obama plans to have more of them.

  6. Bill H.

    After the last eight years, I’ll take an articulate, authoritative president, and if he’s a bit short on the empathy front at first, I’ll gladly cut him some slack in that department. JFK’s early press conferences were criticized on the same grounds, but after several months in office, and after becoming acclimated to the situation, Kennedy’s humor and easy style prevailed. I think the same will happen with Obama.

  7. Doug Shugarts

    I thought Obama made his case in a clear, professional manner that reflected his competence as a leader and his understanding of the need for action vis-a-vis the U.S. economy.I don’t care a jot about anything but results.

  8. Brad

    “Whining”? That’s a strong word. I didn’t catch the news conference, so perhaps he was “whiny”, but I suppose it could also part of a public relations attempt to paint the Republicans as nothing more than obstructionists.Let’s not forget, a lot of people…a whole lot…have been banging on Obama’s door to demand he get nastier against the right. So he will score some decent points any time he says Republicans are bad, no matter what tone he uses.Honestly I don’t know for sure. But while perhaps it was clumsily executed, I find it hard to believe that “whining” was the operating strategy there.As for “Why Joe Biden?”…eh, couldn’t tell you. I didn’t understand Biden for Veep when he was picked, why should it make sense now?

  9. Dan Kennedy

    I wrote last summer that the two running mates should be Mitt Romney and John Kerry. No doubt McCain would agree with that today. And I wonder what Obama might secretly think.

  10. L.K.

    Didn’t any one notices Obama’s selection of reporters read from a list on his podium? Managing the news? And the press gives him a pass on this?Obama may have known his topic, but he appeared surprisingly uncomfortable in expressing himself. At times it was almost painful watching him twist himself like a pretzel.

  11. Bill Baar

    Didn’t any one notices Obama’s selection of reporters read from a list on his podium? Yes, and I believe the reporters (although not the questions) was agreed to in advance. Everyone knew who was scripted to speak and who wasn’t.So the rest must have felt perfect fools sitting there.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Gosh … it must have been a presidential news conference.

  13. Pink Granite

    Hi Dan -I watched the entire news conference last night as well as President Obama’s town hall style meeting in Indiana yesterday afternoon and all but the first few moments of his appearance in Fort Myers today. I also read your piece for The Guardian and your live Tweets about the news conference. I came away with a different impression. I felt Obama was firm, clear and authoritative in the news conference. I’m not a journalist, but those news conferences strike me as formal events. The press corp stands when he enters the room. They address the president in a formal and respectful way. They are called on in turn and don’t just shout out questions. Considering what the country and the world is facing, President Obama demonstrated gravitas. During the two events in Indiana and Florida, Obama was equally serious and knowledgeable. When fielding questions from those citizens in attendance, he did have a more relaxed demeanor than at the news conference and I’m certain he smiled more. Yet he never lost sight of the seriousness of what we are facing. To me he struck the right notes at all three events. – Lee

  14. Tunder

    L.K.I saw Ari Fleischer being interviewed on O’Reilly afterward and he acknowledged that Bush did the same thing with list of reporters, where they were sitting, etc. before the news conference. Screening? To some extent. But, Fleischer’s point was that the loudest, most persistent reporter shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded with a question. I confess I didn’t see all of the it but I tend to agree with Bill H. re: the Kennedy analogy. I think for a first press conference, he did just fine.

  15. Prospecticus

    Maura Liasson’s “Are you sorry you didn’t include Republican’s earlier” was –not surprisingly– embarrassing. Maybe Obama sould have had a bit of an edge in his answer. I was also sorry to see a lapel pin. Leave this kind of thing to George Bush,Andy Card and Cub Scouts.

  16. Don, American

    Dear Dan,Didn’t you mean “offensive?”

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