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"Why doesn't Obama just use the bully pulpit?"

"Single payer would have passed if Obama had used the bully pulpit."

"Obama refuses to use the bully pulpit"

Whenever comments like this appear, I post the same response:

There is no bully pulpit.

It usually gets some pushback from people who somehow imagine that President Obama has the same access to news coverage that Teddy Roosevelt had.   Or that FDR had.  Or that Lyndon Johnson had.  How they can believe that, I have no idea.

When I was a child (lo those many years ago), if the President of the United States gave a speech it was on all three networks, and the next day the Washington Post and the Evening Star would print the entire text of the speech in the front section of the paper.

Now the president often gets shunted off the free networks onto the cable stations.  So he can give a major speech without most of the American People finding out about it because they were watching Two and  Half Men, or a Grade Z movie on CINEMAX or any of a number of other things on of hundreds of other channels.

And as for the text in the paper the next day?  Not even the New York Times does that anymore.  Which doesn't matter because people aren't getting their news from newspapers anyway.

When I was a child, if the president wanted to give a press conference, even the most popular shows on television would be pre-empted.  On all three networks.  Now the President has to ask the networks to give him time, and they ask him to avoid prime time when by definition the most people are watching.  They ask him to avoid the syndicated daytime shows because they earn big money for the affiliates.  When Obama first took office and asked for airtime the way previous presidents were able to do, the networks complained and bitched and moaned.  In 2009 Fox Broadcast channel (not Fakes News on cable) simply refused to air a presidential press conference.  He simply got shut out.  They justified it by saying that the viewership for his press conferences was declining.  And unfortunately they were right.  So even when Obama asks for air time, there are lots of people who just don't watch.

Sometimes the President can give a 45 minute speech and be lucky to get 15 seconds of coverage on free television.  Many news outlets, if they cover it at all, will not play any actual clips of what the president said, preferring instead to quote only how pundits reacted to the speech.  Fakes News does that all the time, and it is the most watched news channel on cable.  We all remember how they cut away from one of his major health care speeches, calling it a “pep rally” and complaining that “the President doing everything he can to try and get the American people behind his health care reform plans.”  Um, yes!  That's the idea!  And if we had an unbiased press who gave people the facts, the majority support for single payer would have had a better chance of winning the day!

But most people aren't getting their news from primary sources anymore.  They get it filtered through a right-wing sieve.  They almost never hear what the president actually said, they only hear what the pundits said about what the president said.  And the most listened to pundits in this country think nothing of flat out lying about what the president said, or making up things he didn't say.  Fakes News cuts away from the President's health care speech to go to John Boehner lying about it?  Par for the course.

When I was a child, if the President took a foreign trip, it was big news everywhere.  Stories on the news, pictures in all the papers.

I bet not one person in 10,000 can tell you that President Obama was in Ireland in May.

Older people speak fondly about the Fireside Chats.  I am not old enough to remember them.  But I do know that they were happening at a time when radio was the primary source for news and entertainment for the country.  When FDR broadcast his final fireside chat, there were fewer than 40,000 people with television sets in the entire country (and most of those were in New York) but there were 40 million homes with radio.  FDR spoke words of reassurance to people gathered around their radios before they went to bed on those Sunday nights.  At a time when the population of the whole country was only about 125 million, his first Fireside Chat reached an estimated 60 million people.  Almost half the entire U.S. population.

There is literally nothing President Obama can do that will reach half the U.S. population at one time. He could not even get 60 million people to watch his inauguration, and the population of the country has more than doubled since FDR left office.  Not one person in 1000 listens to the president's weekly address.  Or even knows when it is on.  Or even knows what DAY it is on.  Look at the low views on YouTube.

When I was a child, radio news stations also used to carry Presidential speeches and news conferences live.  Now not even NPR does that.  Which doesn't matter because people aren't getting their news from radio anymore.  Are there any radio news stations left?  Anywhere?

This trend became apparent during Clinton's presidency.  By the time Dubya was appointed to the presidency took office, he did not have a bully pulpit either.

But GWB did not need one.  He had Murdoch's 24-hour news channel devoted to spreading his message, and CNN trying mightily to become Fakes News Lite.  Dubya also had hundreds of radio stations devoted to spreading wall to wall wingnut propaganda.   Obama, of course, does not have that advantage.  Even if you erroneously believe MSNBC is the left-leaning counterpart to Fakes News (and it is not), MSNBC does not have news 24/7, as we have all complained about the prison porn and To Catch a Predator marathons.  It remains to be seen how KO will develop Current, but it is a sure bet that Current will not be as supportive of Obama and as dedicated to getting his message out as Fakes News was with Dubya.

The perfect example of the lack of a bully pulpit occurred in 2009 when the President wanted to give a “back to school” address to the children of the nation.  The VRWC went into high gear.  With one voice they claimed he was going to give a political speech and “indoctrinate” kids!  Yeah—they were afraid their children would see for themselves that the President is reasonable and amiable, and not at all the scary black boogeyman they have heard their parents talk about.  Some wingnut parents were in such a frenzy of outrage they demanded the right to have their children opt out of hearing the speech.  Whole school systems refused to show children an address from the President of the United States!

Fakes News complaining about indoctrination???!!!  Pot, meet kettle—and all because the President is black!

And a Democrat.

No one was more surprised than I when daytime TV gave the President wall to wall coverage a few weeks ago to talk about the debt ceiling negotiations.  CBS even pre-empted the Price is Right, which cost them some serious money.  And networks gave the President prime time coverage too, although they complained that he wasn't “making any news”.  So even when they deign to put the President on free TV as they did a few weeks ago, it is a rare event and only lasts a few minutes.

Compare that with the three hours a day, five days a week, that Rush Limpbaugh has to get his Republicon message out.  He has the ability to reach millions of people directly in a way that this President can not, with virtually no contradictory message to argue against him.  Millions of people voluntarily consume Limpbaugh's opinions for hours every day, preceded and followed by people who are reinforcing the exact same message.  There are many many parts of the country where every single talk show around the clock has a right-wing host:  Bill Bennett followed by Dennis Prager followed by Michael Medved followed by Hugh Hewitt followed by Lonesome Rhodes followed by Rush Limpbaugh followed by Sean insHannity followed by Mark Levin followed by Dennis Miller followed by Michael Savage followed by Laura Ingraham etc. ad nauseum.  “News breaks” at the top of the hour that last seven minutes, including commercials, weather, and sports, don't give listeners much real factual information about what the president is or isn't saying or doing.

How is this President supposed to compete with that?  Is the VRWC balanced out because they put Obama on free daytime TV a few times and a couple of times at night?  When every viewer who didn't turn it off as soon as it came on gets to sit through rebuttal arguments immediately afterward that often last longer than the speech itself?  Please.

So I am fed up with people who keep saying that all President Obama has to do is “use the bully pulpit” and “push harder” and “speak out” and thereby persuade the American people to support this or that.  Speak out where?  Speak out to whom?  How do you suggest he get a positive message out when he has no control over whether television, newspapers, or radio report the truth about what he is advocating?

WhiteHouse.gov has a wealth of information, true.  And all the major presidential speeches are on YouTube and DailyKosTV and elsewhere on the internet.  But let's remember there are still a LOT of people who either have no internet access, or their only access is dial-up, which makes watching speeches of any length difficult.  Some of those people don't even have cable TV.  And a great many local newspaper owners are Republicons also, who focus on local news, and if they give any space to national issues, they basically just reprint whatever AP sends them.  And we all know how the AP has acted since Obama took office.

There. is. no. bully. pulpit.  I will post that every single time I see anybody at Daily Kos complain about Obama not using it.

It is nonsense to keep insisting that Obama use something he does not have.

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Comment Preferences

  •  i've got my flame-retardant clothes on (16+ / 0-)

    It is true that the free networks gave Obama wall to wall coverage for the debt ceiling crisis.  CBS even interrupted The Price is Right, the #1 daytime syndicated show, more than once.  That cost them some money.  But it was the network's call, not the President's.  Network executives must have wanted the debt ceiling deal really bad.

    "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
    I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

    by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 12:10:51 PM PDT

  •  BULLYPULPITBULLYPULPITBULLYPULPITBULLYPULPIT! (3+ / 0-)

    Pretty sure that'll get me the BMW I've been wanting.


    Kevin dropped his ice cream and blames Obama? He's gone hamsher!

    by punditician on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:15:41 PM PDT

  •  Then There is No Means To Win His Election Either. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TrueBlueMajority, Tantris, Jim P, rcnewton

    I'm not disputing the media lockout of Dems, and I remember it under Clinton too when it was lucky if some of his speeches got 1 network.

    Nonetheless, if the infrastructure exists to motivate the public sufficient for a competitive election race, then it exists around the calendar for someone to find a way to make use of it.

    And if not, well we're pretty much finished right now.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:15:56 PM PDT

    •  we're not finished. we just need to be creative. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      scilicet, lordcopper

      we have other outlets that worked in 2008.  We have viral videos, we have TDS/TCR, and we have to be more intentional about one to one communication like passing on truthful emails as the other side passes on emails full of lies.

      it's not over.  but we have an uphill battle, and the sooner we stop relying on Teddy Roosevelt and FDR to guide our media expectations, the better.

      "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
      I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

      by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:20:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hello! Paid Ads. 365 days a year. When there's n (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TrueBlueMajority

        o election, then do a 'what Ds did for you' education program.  If the President has to buy 15 minutes to get his message out, so be it.

        'Less we're going to gasp! pass a law regluating how they use OUR airwaves.  But, we can't do that.  That would be unAmerican, or something.

        Thugs have their paid ads on 365 a year, 24/7.  Its caled Faux.  They pay for it too.  

        The days of the 'responsible' media are long gone.

      •  FDR spent 6 - 10 days crafting each chat (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TrueBlueMajority, Bob Duck

        and perfecting it before delivery. Then all those millions listened and judged his words for themselves. His chats were not filtered and truncated through a few (often biased) new sources, then reduced to echo-chamber bits of nonsense. (Imo most pundits just aren't sharp enough to offer real analysis. It doesn't help that many are left over from some failed pol's campaign--they're not reporters, they don't bother researching, they don't offer insights.) All most people end up hearing is echo-chamber bits of nonsense like, 'Obama was too angry,' 'Obama wasn't passionate enough.'

        Many times, when someone rants to me that Obama never talks about X, I'm shocked because I know he's just spent that week going to multiple workplaces or town halls giving speech after speech on the very topic. Of course then, the rant becomes that it proves he's too weak to seize the "narrative." Imo he can narrate all he wants, but if only a small percentage even find out about it, generally to hear Fox sneer and CNN to repeat the sneer for "balance," then shame on us for complaining about Obama instead of the press.

        Never in my life has the press been so useless. I thought blogs might do better, but there are very few I wouldn't describe as echo chambers full of venting and short on research.

        A last point: when judging press handling then versus now, I think it's useful to remember that in the nearly 4 terms FDR was in the White House only one photograph was taken by the press of him in his wheelchair. One photo! And the press did not release it. They understood FDR's rationale, and they showed him that respect. The press then couldn't have been more different from the press now. The pulpit was bully then, but imo it's since been kicked to the back of the spin room closet.

        "Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!" Homer Simpson.

        by scilicet on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:54:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i agree, scilicet (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bob Duck

          about FDR:

          His chats were not filtered and truncated through a few (often biased) new sources, then reduced to echo-chamber bits of nonsense.

          about people not hearing Obama:

          when someone rants to me that Obama never talks about X, I'm shocked because I know he's just spent that week going to multiple workplaces or town halls giving speech after speech on the very topic.

          and the press in general:
          Never in my life has the press been so useless.

          thanks for commenting.

          "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
          I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

          by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 02:54:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  "There is no bully pulpit" (6+ / 0-)

    That's for sure.

    George W Bush took it with him when he left.

    _________

    On another note, Im a big fan of the Fireside Chats. I wonder if there is a working fireplace in the White House....

    •  As to working fireplaces, I bet all the same ones (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rcnewton

      Richard Milhous Nixon had the Palace guard keep burning, with the air conditioning turned way up to keep him and Pat comfy in that late-July/early-August 1974 White House, are still lined up and ready for service.

      On the other hand, last I checked there are no fucking solar panels on the roof.

      On the other hand, as things start to crash and burn the way they are starting to, who fucking cares?

      "Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee.

      by jm214 on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:26:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There is no bully pulpit when one does (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rcnewton, IndieGuy

      not recognize that they have one.  Ignorance is such bliss.  So my point is if he is so stupid as to not recognize the power that he has then he is not worthy to be the leader of this country.

    •  we've learned that the Republicon bully pulpit (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pluto, Bob Duck

      works 24/7/365 regardless of whether their guy is in office.

      "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
      I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

      by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 02:55:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Did you listen to his speech yesterday? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jhecht, RaulVB, rcnewton, IndieGuy

    It was pap. Empty words and the guarantee that nothing will come from the White House, no action, no decision, no nothing.

    I understand why the networks don't want to give him air time and why viewers tune out. Because it's not news. It's substance-free communication, a PR exercise of no consequence whatsoever.

    To use and keep the bully pulpit, you first need to have something to say, something that matters.

    I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

    by Farugia on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:21:31 PM PDT

  •  TrueBlueMajority has no bully pulpit! (3+ / 0-)

    But, seriously, thank you for writing this. You definitely described the situation accurately.

    I work mostly at home, and I'm pretty much addicted to listening to "1350 Progressive Talk Radio."  And then, of course I read this and scour other sites on the intertubes.  I quite watching tee-vee years ago, about the time my daughter hit high school and competitive figure skating, so dinner in front of the tube came to an end.

    Our 1350 is a Clear Channel station, and there's a top of the hour 10 minute CNN feed. Total Republican spin.

    My 90-year old Liberal mom lives in a retirement center and has cable (not the kind with msnbc), so she sees CNN, and also watches PBS.  The newspaper is mostly a Republican spin machine. She watches the Sunday talking heads, but you and I know how that goes.

    You're right. Our team has no bully pulpit.

    My secret hope is in having heard that Mudoch's daughter hates Fox and Roger Ales.  I converse with my angels every day about that.

    I did love when Obama managed to get the folks to flood the House lines and servers.  And the tweet town hall was good.  But there will always be lots of noise in all that.

    Media is changing so fast, nobody knows where any of it is going.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and correcting the record.

    Namaste!

  •  The "Poor Powerless President Obama" (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hardhatmama, rcnewton, TheOrchid, IndieGuy

    We all know the talking point, "thank you."

  •  After the Public Option debacle (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RaulVB, hardhatmama, rcnewton, IndieGuy

    why would the networks give him time? He wasted on hour of the networks and the public's time to tell us how important the public option was. He then negotiated it away a few weeks after (or by some accounts even before) saying it wasn't that important.

    Battleground Wisconsin: Fascism has come to America

    by jhecht on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:35:07 PM PDT

  •  It was two weeks ago the capital switchboard (5+ / 0-)

    was shut down from heavy volume after the President asked people to call on a televised speech he made.

    Two.Weeks.Ago.
    Two.Weeks.Ago.

    Seriously, the only problem with your contention is that it has nothing to do with reality. In the real world, the President almost always -- with very very few exceptions -- gets prime time coverage if he asks for it.

    Moreover, he gets daily coverage of statements, those statements usually become top news items on tv/radio, print, internet, and he can say what he wants and get it covered.

    There is no other human being on the face of the planet that can get as much attention in our media, whether main networks, cable, the internet, or through any combination, than the President of the United States.

    Easily, just a casual watcher of the news, you've got 150-200 million people who can get the message in 24 hours. And the rest in 48 hours as it gets echoed even if people don't watch tv but just use the internet.

    This is nonsense, that there's no bully pulpit. I understand you feel a need to make it seem like his silence on many things is unconnected to him, but this is just counter all reality and experience.

    He can speak, he can say what he wants, he can repeat what he wants everyday of the week, and the entire nation, practically every single person with the franchise, will know what he said.


    "Whatever you do, don't mention The War."

    by Jim P on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:37:42 PM PDT

    •  this is just insane (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Escamillo
      There is no other human being on the face of the planet that can get as much attention in our media, whether main networks, cable, the internet, or through any combination, than the President of the United States.

      I can think of half a dozen celebrities who get more coverage.

      Easily, just a casual watcher of the news, you've got 150-200 million people who can get the message in 24 hours.

      you have no evidence for this.

      "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
      I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

      by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:48:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  and this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bob Duck
      he can say what he wants and get it covered

      makes no sense at all.

      He can speak, he can say what he wants, he can repeat what he wants everyday of the week, and the entire nation, practically every single person with the franchise, will know what he said.

      how do you square that with the large number of people who believe he is a socialist Muslim born in Kenya?

      how do you square that with the number of people who think he raised their taxes last year?

      he does keep saying things over and over and the message does not get out, in part because there is a very effective propaganda outfit counteracting his message.

      and people elsewhere on this blog are complaining that he keeps saying the same thing every day, so "he can repeat what he wants everyday of the week" does not wash either.

      Q:  why are people twisting themselves in knots to pretend Obama could do more than he's doing?  A:  because that let's them blame Obama rather than the obsructionist Republicans and the VRWC.

      "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
      I am a volunteer for Bob Massie for MA-Sen

      by TrueBlueMajority on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 02:06:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Until he tries to use it... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RaulVB, LaEscapee, rcnewton, IndieGuy

    in a comprehensive fashion tied to policies, and the resolve to stand firm, then how can the diarist know what is asserted?

    Hope you understand what I said, but if not, it may not be my inarticulation, but your predisposition.

    by citizen53 on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:38:20 PM PDT

  •  Impotence marches on. -eom- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IndieGuy

    Now with extra blue!

    by TheOrchid on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:40:45 PM PDT

  •  Shorter diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IndieGuy

    lower your expectations.

    I'm an ass, my father was an ass as was his father before him. This has no bearing on the fact that I am correct.

    by LaEscapee on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:43:41 PM PDT

  •  The idea POTUS has to meet RATINGS is obscene. nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  Yes there is. (0+ / 0-)

    This President is just inept at using it.

    "Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage." - Confucius

    by IndieGuy on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:52:27 PM PDT

  •  Not only has the President's ability to (3+ / 0-)

    communicate with the country changed, but the nature of the electorate has changed as well.  In the past, the average American was better informed (see newspaper readership), probably because journalism was was a public service.  Today, journalism and politics are   "Hollywood for ugly people", and the profit motive is prominent.  Voters have to bear some responsibility for these changes.

    "Because I am a river to my people."

    by lordcopper on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:53:03 PM PDT

  •  Good diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Escamillo, evergreen2

    You make some excellent points about how the "bully pulpit" has changed over the years.   It is indeed far weaker than it used to be.

    "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis

    by Bob Duck on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 03:42:55 PM PDT

    •  It may be weaker, (0+ / 0-)

      but the diarist's assertion that it no longer exists at all is ludicrous.

      "We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can't have both."-- Justice Louis Brandeis

      by ubertar on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 04:24:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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