The Teleprompter Debate

By Lindsey Ellerson

Mar 27, 2009 3:45pm

ABC News’ Barry Freeman reports:

President Obama has been criticized for relying too much on the use of a teleprompter — you know, those slightly tilted boat-paddle-looking devices that flank each side of the presidential podium. They’re essentially projection screens to his right and left from which he can read his speech, rather than speaking extemporaneously or with printed notes.  I must admit that for those of us who work in TV news — especially those, like me, who edit these pieces — it can be difficult to find a camera shot of the president where one of these devices is not sticking up prominently in the frame. It can be distracting for the viewer.

This obviously occurred to the White House staff as well. During President Obama’s televised press conference and address to the nation Tuesday evening, these podium teleprompters were replaced with a giant large screen TV which was strategically located in the rear of the East Room behind the press reporters.  The president used the TV screen to read his opening remarks and then took questions from reporters.

Later, some in the news media said that the TV prompter resembled a drive-in movie theater screen. Fox News even lead their evening coverage of the press conference with details of the teleprompter before recapping what the president said. Critics also have a blog about President Obama’s teleprompter which they refer to as TOTUS and there’s a website called "TeleprompterObama," which features the latest in teleprompter technology, wireless sunglasses that the president can wear so he can immediately respond to reporters’ questions anywhere by reading answers right off the lenses.

It’s a joke, of course. Though the president’s defenders don’t find it particularly funny.

With all the criticism and jokes about the President Obama’s teleprompter addiction, David Letterman brought it all into focus in a recent monologue.

The White House has been trying to diffuse the uproar over the teleprompters by telling the New York Times that, “whether one uses note cards or a teleprompter, the American people are still a lot more concerned about the plans relayed than the method of delivery. This is not always true of the media.”

In defense of President Obama, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, "Leaders who prefer to speak from the top of their heads are not more authentic, they are often more shallow — not more ‘real,’ but more undisciplined….Governing is a craft, not merely a talent. It involves the careful sorting of ideas and priorities. And the discipline of writing — expressing ideas clearly and putting them in proper order — is essential to governing. For this reason, the greatest leaders have taken great pains with rhetoric. Lincoln continually edited and revised his speeches. Churchill practiced to the point of memorization."

In fact, given Gerson’s former boss’ proclivity for malapropisms, some might have wondered why our former president didn’t use the teleprompter more often?
 
–ABC News’ Barry Freeman

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