Thursday, June 17, 2010

Presidents and the Pundits Who Love Them (Most of the Time)

When President Obama gave his first Oval Office address on Tuesday, talking to the nation about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, his words -- or rather, the words he didn't use -- riled up some people.

Just ... not the people you think.

Don't get me wrong; FOX News and their ilk took their requisite shots at the president before and after the address -- and probably during, even though their mics were off -- but what caught everyone's attention is the reaction of some political pundits on the left.

Specifically, those on MSNBC.

Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Rachel Maddow -- defenders of the communist left, depending on who you talk to -- took President Obama to task for his speech, saying he didn't go far enough, that he wasn't forceful enough.

Video of Olbermann, Matthews and Fineman on Tuesday in the immediate aftermath of the address:

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Maddow, who's usually one of the more levelheaded and emotionless pundits on cable news, was so dissatisfied with President Obama's address that she wrote her own version and delivered it on Wednesday.

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Look, I love Olbermann and Maddow; in many ways, they give me everything I need in my political commentary. They're not my source of news -- I have a variety of websites and newspapers to accomplish that -- but both pundits serve a purpose for me.

Olbermann acts as my emotional release; his bombastic and at-times over-the-top nature allow me to vent my frustrations and anger whenever I feel things in Washington aren't going quite right. Though Olbermann sometimes goes overboard, and can be described as a caricature of himself, his heart is always in the right place, and the emotional release he provides is necessary to a degree.

Maddow, on the other hand, brings me back down to Earth. She presents the facts in a calm manner, even going so far as to give us stories the rest of the media is ignoring. As far as I can tell, she's also the only cable news pundit who actually traveled to the Gulf Coast -- twice, even -- to cover the disaster.

You think FOX News did that?

That said, I disagree with both pundits' characterizations of the president's address. Presidential addresses aren't usually meant to be heavy on angst or policy details. More than anything, a presidential address is meant to talk to a concerned nation about the crisis of the moment, providing reassurance that measures are being taken and that things, after a fair amount of work and effort, will get better.

That's what President Obama did Tuesday night. He wasn't setting out to hold BP's feet to the fire -- he did that on Wednesday -- nor was he scolding the Senate into finally taking action on the climate change bill. He was merely talking to the country -- the residents of the Gulf Coast specifically -- trying to reassure them.

Though I disagree with Olbermann (and Matthews, and Fineman), I respect his opinion and understand where he's coming from in his criticism. Olbermann is well within his rights to criticize the Obama administration over the airwaves, and even if I disagree with the assessment, I respect the fact that Olbermann isn't a cheerleader for the White House.

That's the last thing we need.

I feel largely the same way about Maddow, even if I take issue with how she expressed her criticism. Re-writing a presidential address and delivering it as "fake-President" rubbed me the wrong way. I understand Maddow's segments can be a little off, which is great, but the fake speech didn't sit well with me.

99.9 percent of the time, I'm on-board with whatever Maddow says or does on her show; she's proven through her intelligence, journalistic integrity and loyalty to the facts that she deserves the trust of the viewers. However, I couldn't go along with her last night when she gave this speech. I understand that she found the speech inadequate, and that's her right to have that opinion and I respect that, but to sit there and give us the speech as she would've preferred it? That just bugged me.

It felt like a bit of emotional reactionism -- which I expect from Olbermann, not Maddow. This seemed really out-of-character for her, and I think she would've been better off interviewing someone from the administration and asking them why certain things were and weren't said.

This didn't seem like her.

But hey, those who've been hoping Maddow would "take on" the President more? It looks like they're getting what they wanted.

I guess the moral of this post is ... pundits have their place in today's 24-hour, cable- and internet-driven media landscape. They play an important role, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. But at the end of the day, pundits do nothing more than offer an opinion, and one would do well to take a lot of what they say with that in mind.

President Obama did not address the pundits with his address Tuesday night; he was addressing the American people -- most of whom don't have a nightly platform on cable news with which to give their political opinions.

Which is probably a good thing.

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