Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
October 28, 2010

Obama – Stewart with the Sound Off

As Karl said, politics is TV with the sound off.  Obama may have come out ahead on talking points or debate technique (as if Jon Stewart happened to be one of those pundits the Prez lumped him in with), but the Daily Show is about busting the spin, and the take away, as you see above, is that Obama (“Heck of a job, Larry!) came off not like the change he promised so much as a typical politician.

Update:

What I said above is frankly generic so I went back and watched it again, with and without sound, and this time, I took my own screen shots instead of working off the wire photos.

My take is that Obama is a great communicator — if you give him 20 minutes with a friendly interviewer and an admiring audience. It shouldn’t be a passive interviewer, though. In fact, he’s at his best when someone gets in his face a little bit.

1. Sitting back listening to Stewart frame the Larry Summers question. (18:31)

What’s interesting here, and at other points where Stewart challenged Obama, is that Obama pulls back, but he doesn’t really get that defensive. Instead, he seems to leave space for the other person to more fully make their point before he engages. It’s almost like a defender in basketball leaving space for a fast opponent so he can figure out the move.

Defending the response to economic crisis (20:27).

If it looks forceful, Obama is actually being more determined than aggressive, insistent on making his point and setting the record straight — which is something he doesn’t seem to do day-to-day operating “in the bubble.”

In the picture just above this photo (from 21:57), Obama talks about understanding the public’s impatience and the difficulty of bringing about change in the culture of Washington.

The closest screenshot is from the “phasing in health care” discussion. Obama reacts to the charge he oversold himself by emphasizing “change you can believe in” doesn’t happen in only eighteen months. (Around the 16:00 mark, I believe.)

Obama has a pretty interesting and healthy response to confrontation. When Stewart challenged him, he actually got out of his head and started talking more frankly and with a lot more feeling and connection.

Stewart joke: It’s hard for me not to talk (20:54).

If you were just reading the picture, the take-away might be that Obama can keep his sense of humor. Stewart’s joke, however, comes from Obama not letting him get a word in edgewise (as Obama goes around one more time in explaining his handling of the economy and and defending the role of Larry Summers). The joke, then, is about Obama being long-winded; Obama working to communicate; Obama having to make sure he’s understood; Obama emphasizing “it’s complicated.”

What the interview drove home to me more than anything is how much Obama must hate sound bites. He resists delivering them and it clearly frustrates him that his actions, and especially the criticisms of him are reduced to these reductive, overly simplistic and offensive little “packets.”

As eloquent, tempered, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate and clear as he can be, however, what the President doesn’t seem to understand, or more likely doesn’t want to, is that forums like this — where he can express himself the way he would like — are all too rare.

The Obama Daily Show Interview

  • black dog barking

    …Obama (“Heck of a job, Larry!) came off not like the change he promised so much as a typical politician.

    If “Change” is the goal than my read of this image is “Mission Accomplished” to coin a phrase. Imagine, for a moment, that it was America’s smallest President in the Stewart hot seat (with nifty new blast-proof modesty panel!!) and not BHO. The upgrade from that woeful image is indeed change I can believe in.

    As documented at this web site, for years we saw endless streams of images of our President speaking (catapulting the propaganda) in front of captive audiences sworn to salute him, in front of a barrage of banners promoting the jingle of the day (“Stay the course”). Here we see the image of the sitting President engaged with one of the few smart voices in the national media. Here we see change. Thank goodness.

  • Hg

    That’s pretty much it. After eight years of a president who, aside from trotting out Harriet Miers, never did a single thing to displease his base, I suppose it’s a good thing that Obama hears and acknowledges the impatience and frustration coming from his base. He made some solid points about starting HCR, turning the economy around, making higher ed more accessible, etc. But as a party the Republicans have “stomp liberals anywhere and everywhere” as their very top priority. Stewart spends every day calling attention to the dangerousness of accommodating such stupidity and yet in a couple of days Obama is going to have to work with a new group of people representing this violent, racist, illiterate hillbilly side of America. No wonder nobody at that desk looks happy.

  • thirdeye pushpin

    Stewart also mocked obama’s shift from change you can believe in to don’t let them get the keys…I wish Obama had forcefully addressed what still needs changing and why this election is important to that change…not one iota on climate change…it was about policy and procedure and not vision. Obama missed a chance to rise above and inspire people.

    I sometimes think the very nature that made Obama palatable as President reason and accommodation is what holds him back from being a passionate and forceful leader.

    I also see Stewart as saddened that Obama could not meet his challenges. What a tough spot to be in….

    I wish Obama had gotten into a what kind of country do you want to see mode and drawn clear distinctions and consequences of what this election means….

    Hope is not a plan.

  • kailuahale

    “typical politician” ? Really? What does that even mean anymore?

  • Vvoter

    How about, he’s an extraordinary politician working within a typical political structure that is confronted with very atypical difficulties. black dog barking gets right to the point: BO embodies change.

    Look at the photo. BO’s head (thought) is in the Blue: social progress through government action; his hands (utility) are in the Red: work with what you have, cf. Edmund Burke.

    We liked BO in ‘08 precisely because he didn’t come out swinging, in much contradistinction to GWB. BO is judicial by nature, and his intellect helped win him the election.

    But with a sinking ship of state calling for immediate attention, he had to patch the hole quickly (Larry!). No time for building a shiny new vessel.

    BNN reads this photo as BO without the new vessel. An alternative reading is: BO, after bailing out a sinking ship, emerges from the hull only to find that while he was down there, the passengers completely lost their shit and threw a tea party.

  • Gasho

    I listened to 2/3 of this thing and you know what I didn’t hear?

    Bush. Dick. Alberto, Rummy, Karl or Rice. These are Obama’s predecessors. John used to talk about them a-lot. Picture a montage revisiting the radical misdeeds and horrors, open war planning and evidence of wrongdoing documented blatantly– in the news, on shows, and blogs for years while it unfolded. John gave Obama a pass on the Past. Isn’t it time to revisit the past, so we don’t go there again?

    Picture this: “Mr. President, I have to ask you quite simply, was the iraq war necessary? Was it the case that it needed to be fought on behalf of our nation’s safety? If no, then why haven’t we had serious trials over this? Was the war necessary, or was it a war of choice?”

    Think of the Daily Show recapping #thebushyears for Obama, then asking him about why there’s been no investigations, let alone trials for abuse of office and illegal activities?

    “Couldn’t you at least nab him on a technicality, like oh, say breaking the official records act, or corrupting the Justice Department?”

    John Stewart deserves the answers; and so do we, his audience.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes