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Obama Prime-Time Presser: First Thoughts

President Obama during tonight's live prime-time press conference. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama's second prime-time press conference since taking office is in the books.

We live Twittered the proceedings but also managed to take a few notes on broader observations from the 57-minute event.

Our first thoughts are below. We retain the right to revise and extend them after a good dinner (stomach is grumbling) and a decent night's sleep (not likely given Charlie's recent pattern).

Have thoughts of your own on Obama's performance and that of the White House press corps? The comments section awaits.

A Slow Start: Obama is an expert at reading off a teleprompter without it appearing as though he is reading off a telemprompter. But, tonight he struggled badly. His gaze was just slightly lower than eye level on television, which meant that to a person watching on TV he looked like he was looking down. Obama also sped through the prepared text; it's not clear whether that was because the prompter was moving too fast or because he simply wanted to get through it. Regardless, his introductory remarks came across as shaky and uncertain as opposed to strong and commanding.

Domestic Policy Dominates: Perhaps reflective of the all-encompassing nature of the current economic crisis, almost all of the questions asked of the president were centered on domestic policy. There were three total questions with a foreign policy tilt: on the Mexican drug wars, China's plans to unseat the dollar as the dominant currency and Israeli-Palestinian relations. Compare that to double-digit questions on Obama's budget, stem cells, spending and race in America and it's clear where the media's (hive) mind is focused currently.

Niche Publications Make Noise: There may be no official tradition on who gets to ask questions (and in what order) at press conferences but anyone who covers the White House knows that the traditional pecking order goes something like this: Associated Press, Reuters, the television networks (broadcast and cable) and then major print newspapers like the Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Obama went far off that script tonight -- calling on a Univision reporter and a Stars and Stripes reporter back to back within the first half hour and also giving Ebony magazine a question. Each of these publications have a targeted but very attentive audience that represents a key voting bloc (Hispanics, the military and African Americans) that Obama wants to make sure know their voices are being heard. The Fix, of course, would have liked to see the Post get a question.

The Closer: As weakly as Obama started the press conference, he finished it just as strongly -- taking a question on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and turning it into a forceful argument for why patience is a virtue in politics and policy. He was reasonable, thoughtful and convincing. And, it's always good to either open or close strong -- although Obama's advisers would have probably preferred a stronger opening given that the audience was likely the highest right around 8 p.m.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 24, 2009; 9:33 PM ET
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I don't agree with you at all about the President's "shaky and uncertain" introduction . Every word and phrase was crafted perfectly to be economical and precise. A courtesy that allowed more time for a free flow of questions and answers. I sure didn't get the sense he was looking down. Maybe I am not just tuned into always looking for something to criticize. The choice of media persons did get my attention. It seemed different to this novice. Glad to have you explain what I was seeing as actually different. That he was not calling on all the familiar people. I like the change. Maybe the next conference will have some of the excellent reporters from NPR invited and allowed to question. Just a final comment. I find it amazing that you all are still talking about the teleprompter. That topic is so far removed from what most of the public cares about.

Posted by: betty6 | March 25, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

"The Fix, of course, would have liked to see the Post get a question."

The last time the Post asked a question, it was about ARod. Jeesh. The back of the press room can surely come up with better questions.

Posted by: imback | March 25, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I wished there would have been some of the punch drunk giggles of the "60 Minutes" piece in this press conference last night but the martini party isn't until tonight (Wednesday).

Posted by: leapin | March 25, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Using a telepromter to give an opening statement is not a big deal. It's what he was able to do afterwards - speak on his feet without a telepromter that you should be focused on.

For the past 8 years we haven't had a President who was willing to take questions from reporters and able to respond in an intelligent manner.

If he looked tired, he probably is given the burdens of the office and what he has done in the past 60 days. He's willing to hear alternatives from those on the right -but so far all they can come up with are petty criticism and no viable aternatives. If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem and we are seeing why America is in trouble, too much bickering on the Hill on the petty stuff and not enough collaboration on identifying and correcting the problems.

It took our country about 200 years to run up its first trillion dollars in debt. President Herbert Hoover famously quipped about 80 years ago: "Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt."

When President Reagan took office in 1981 the national debt started to soar, quadrupling to $4 trillion by the time the first President Bush exited the White House. Under President Clinton, the national debt grew to $5.7 trillion, and has since nearly doubled on Bush Jr.'s watch. Since Reagan I have been hearing people bemoan the fact that the younger generation will have to pay off our national debt. Why didn't we do something to curtail the debt 28 years ago?

Right now we have to increase the debt in order to create a strong foundation that will help future generations to live with less debt by investing in education which will give them the intellectual ability to compete in the global economy, by focusing on energy efficiency we create jobs of the future and protect the environment, and by stemming the spiralign cost of health care through research and regulation. Our President sees that so many of our issues are interrelated. We can no longer attack these issues in a piece meal fashion, it hasn't worked. Bringing down the costs of health care and energy will result in cost savings to future generations. We have put these issues on the side burner for too long and every year we put it off means that they cost more to fix. If we don't fix the problems now then when and at what higher cost?

Posted by: Nevadaandy | March 25, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I can't say the Post would have asked a better question at the presser, but there's no way it would have been worse than the collective performance of the networks' clowns.

Posted by: FlownOver | March 25, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Grade: A Plus, with a star.

From Tom Shales today in the Washington Post:
"So it was that even though Obama did look tired, and had to wrestle with a seemingly faulty prompting device, and wasn't quite as energetic as in many of his other TV appearances, he still came out victorious -- not just President Wonderful but President Feel-Good as well."

BHO took on all comers: Leno, a snarling Kroft, Chucky T, Ann Compton, Ebony Magazine, Stars and Stripes, a broken teleprompter, etc., and...won. Then he boosted the Dow by 500 points.

Overexposed? No. That's just MSM pablum. 44 is talking to the People intelligently and often, just what our President is supposed to do.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | March 25, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

The only problem I see from the reporting is that we didn't really get any news or new insight into this year or the out-years. I keep saying that Obama needs to start on his 'sophomore album' so that his non-fans can decide if they want to get on the soul train.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 25, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

4 years of college? $60K+
Salary from CNN? over $100K+
Getting smacked down on national television by the President of the United States? Priceless

Ed Henry sat on the wall.
Ed Henry had a great fall.
All the CNN’s horses and all CNN’s pundit heads
couldn’t put Ed Henry together again.

Posted by: DrainYou | March 25, 2009 2:57 AM | Report abuse

wow the zouk kook and the microwave guy both posting here. Who could ever ask for more?

Posted by: chrisfox8 | March 25, 2009 2:09 AM | Report abuse

So everyone makes fun of empty suits use of teleprompter and mr thin skins response- move the teleprompter to the back of the room.

My take on it- everyone is expected to make sacrifices- except libs who prefer full spend ahead.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 25, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

For once, I would like the adversary to have its own ideas and stop criticizing at every possible opportunity. It is always easy to criticize but much harder to offer a postive comment or a solution, to a situation, and the "mess" of an economy left by the former administration . As of yet, I know of very few or any pausible new ideas coming from Russ Limbaugh or his "people."

And then, there is Ed Henry of CNN who is getting the "bighead" with increased exposure to the President. Is he auditioning for a job with FOX News? I think I would rather have a more civil tongued John King at future Presidential announcement press conferences.

Posted by: teachlcc | March 24, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Like Brad I heard it first. I later watched on CSpan on the 'puter. Sounded good on the radio and CSpan had many long views from the right side so I did not perceive the basis of Chris' view of the opening.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | March 24, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse


Why does the WH press corps ask the same question sixteen different ways and expect a different answer?

When will someone break new ground and ask POTUS about civil liberties and human rights issues...

...starting with Seymour Hersh's claim that military, security and intelligence operatives continue to run "black ops" against American citizens here at home...

...and that Cheney ran an "executive assassination ring" out of the VP's office?

What does the Obama administration know about this? Are such "ops" continuing?

How about Wednesday at the Gibbs briefing? Will one of you people prove that you know how to advance a story? ASK THE DAMN QUESTION!

How about you, Chris? Show them how it's done, please.

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 24, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

For once, I would like the adversary to have its own ideas and stop criticizing at every possible opportunity. It is always easy to criticize but much harder to offer a postive comment or a solution, to a situation, and the "mess" of an economy left by the former administration . As of yet, I know of very few or any pausible new ideas coming from Russ Limbaugh or his "people."

And then, there is Ed Henry of CNN who is getting the "bighead" with increased exposure to the President. Is he auditioning for a job with FOX News? I think I would rather have a more civil tongued John King at future Presidential announcement press conferences.

Posted by: teachlcc | March 24, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

I have found when someone states "I'm not going to lie to you", they are about to do just that.

Here are some difficult choices for you libs to consider:

Spend more
Spend loads more
Spend like there's no tomorrow
All of the above

Messiah is clueless on so many things, but none so much as charity. What an arrogant donkey.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 24, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse

he's doing everything he can to reduce the deficit- by spending twice as much. Lib math.

Pt Barnum has met his match. Of course lobs are exceedingly gullible and idiotic.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 24, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

How compelling was President Obama's message to shore up support for his economic agenda?


Posted by: usadblake | March 24, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

This young president is being hit with more **** than any president since FDR. He would do well to come out swinging like FDR against the obviously corrupt--and obviously broke-- Wall Streeters.

Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code must apply to the derivatives-addicted gamblers of Wall St. and London.

The Wall Street wing of the Dem Party, and the Bush 'Banker Socialism' faction of the GOP wants Obama to continue the Bush Bottomless Bailout with Summers version of Paulson's Cash For Trash scheme.

This course will strangle Obama's presidency in the cradle.

This president, to solve this crisis will need to muster the guts of the still-smeared FDR.

The choice for the Obama presidency is either FDR--or DOA.

Posted by: bjerryberg | March 24, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: mark_in_austin | March 24, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

My goodness, this was a great press conference. For one thing, the correspondents actually asked some relevant questions, as compared to those pitiful Bush press conferences when one knew, immediately, that the press people were asking questions that simply did NOT challenge the President in any way shape, or form.
Should they have made THAT mistake that would never have been invited back again.
Not so with this guy. He is willing and able to take it on. And, so he did.
Whether you like it or not, this IS a new day. Thank God.

Posted by: cms1 | March 24, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

as usual the President was the master speaker I have come to expect. I do wish however Obama would learn to practice what he preaches and start saving money instead of spending the country into oblivion. he's making
Bush look like a miser by comparison. he's spent more in 60 days than Bush spent in 8 years. and all anyone can comment on is his words. words are cheep. wake up and grab your pocket books.

Posted by: sailor2 | March 24, 2009 11:08 PM | Report abuse

I am watching the repeat. Give him his TelePrompTer back. He is nothing without it. I think I'll go watch the caulk dry for some interest.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 24, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

I was so proud of My. President tonight. He was eloquent and hit exactly the right notes for the public in his responses. Why anyone would care if he uses a teleprompter for the opening and closings is beyond me. Every past president has used them and no one said anything. This is purely a Right wing attempt to deny his eloquence. They can't deny he speaks very well so they say it's all written down in advance. Nope, we heard him speak off the cuff through most of the presser and he is eloquent and well spoken. What an improvement over the previous president's trying to talk.

Posted by: bgormley1 | March 24, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

The powerful piece at the end was persistence, not patience. For the slush heads of the right and the energy brokers of the world, this man will be in your faces until the day he is removed from earth.

Posted by: wren2 | March 24, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

anyone got the link to the full newser? totally missed it and i just can't find anything but snippets online.

Posted by: lupercal | March 24, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

It strikes me as so funny that the Republicans are still so obssessed about Obama's use of teleprompters. Really is this all you have to gripe about. It's as if no other politician in modern times have ever ever used a teleprompter. Let's everyone of Bush's State of the Union - teleprompters and Bush's infamous Mission Accomplished Speech what do we see in that equally infamous photo - yes teleprompters. I agree with Chris that with tonight's press conference President Obama's strongest moment was at the end when he without a teleprompter was able to turn an answer about Israel into an meta-theme of the whole press conference. Bush could barely utter a sentence with a proper noun-verb-subject structure less of all a tie to whole thing together theme.

Posted by: dre7861 | March 24, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Answering boudoir: There was a guy in my gym wearing a T-shirt that read "Ten out of ten terrorists want you to vote Democrat." He had multiple tattoos of the "this should really scare Mom" variety. That's the kind of guy who still trusts the GOP.

That kind of cretin is all they have left.

Chris Cillizza is a political rock star. The Fix has been steadily improving in content and clarity as long as I've been reading it and the twitters are fantastic

Posted by: chrisfox8 | March 24, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Thank god the teleprompter didn't get jammed up!

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | March 24, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

What a difference with Bush! He was really good over all. Put Clinton and Obama together and they have more brain power than the last five Republican Presdidents put together. I wonder why americans ever voted for a Republican..

Posted by: boudoir | March 24, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

It is the taxing time of year so I had to listen to NPR without video. I thought he nailed the entire press conference but I had no video to gage his presence. I really thought from a radio perspective it was great.

Posted by: bradcpa | March 24, 2009 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Obama again demonstrated his deep immersion in and command of policy issues. And isn't it simply wonderful to have a president who can speak so coherently and compellingly to the larger problems facing this nation and the world. Very thoughtful responses. It almost has the feel of a graduate-school seminar.

Posted by: englishl | March 24, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Well, I guess Zouk really WAS caulking the tub.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 24, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Did you watch the same presser? Did you see the slap down of Ed Henry? Priceless.

Posted by: itsme2 | March 24, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

1) The opening WAS painful to watch. Can't help but wonder what was up....
2) I Twittered along during the press conference. Comments were delightful & informative. Awesome!

Posted by: dsw2 | March 24, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: waterfrontproperty | March 24, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

No inspiration in this clown

Posted by: FraudObama | March 24, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree with The Fix most times, but I actually was cool with #44's opening. I think it was sober, on point, and simple to digest.

Posted by: gilk | March 24, 2009 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Take that, Ed Henry!

Posted by: FlownOver | March 24, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

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