The Meaning of the Myth of the Obama Teleprompter

That’s just CRAZY funny

I wondered what was up when I read two letters to the editor of my local independent weekly stating that Pres. Obama is dumber than a box of hammers, and without a teleprompter, he is a gibbering idiot.

Immediately I suspected a FOX News meme but an internet search turns up numerous repetitions of this sentiment on rightwing blogs. One is even entitled, “Barack Obama’s Teleprompter’s Blog — Because There Is No POTUS Without TOTUS.” Its logo is shown.

Others echo the idea that Obama’s intelligence is a fraud.

  • The Weekly Standard: “Yes, Obama can turn a phrase better and do more with a Teleprompter than any other modern era politician. But does his special skill set here actually mean anything, or is it instead the political equivalent of a dog walking on its hind legs–unusual and riveting, but not especially significant?”

  • Politico: “‘It’s just something presidents haven’t done,’ said Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidential historian who has held court in the White House since December 1975. ‘It’s jarring to the eye.'”

  •, recommending a film called The Obama Deception: “The Obama phenomenon is a hoax carefully crafted by the captains of the New World Order.”

Racism is at the heart of rightwing disbelief that a black man would be as stunningly brilliant and yes, articulate, as Barack Obama

At least one folk tale did start with FOX News. Thank one John R. Lott, Jr., senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, writing on the FOX Forum.

While people who watched Obama’s first national press conference noticed his use of a teleprompter to give his initial presentation as well as in answering questions, the media and late night joke writers completely ignored it. The American Spectator notes that in many events “…down to many of the questions and the answers to those questions … [t]eleprompter screens at the events scrolled not only his opening remarks, but also statistics and information he could use to answer questions.”

Apparently, Obama is looking to install a computer screen into the White House podiums so that, according to one Obama advisor, “It would make it easier for the comms guys to pass along information without being obvious about it.” [Emphasis added.]

The Daily Dose investigated those charges specifically.

The story went, in part, that he used the prompter during the Q&A, not just his opening remarks. (Not true, you can see on any broadcast that the screens lowered into the floor at that point.)

The other part of the story was that the White House is in the process of installing a video screen into the podium, so the President can get “Cliff notes” during press conferences. I asked Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton about it today.

He laughed, and said, “Have you seen that anyplace credible, from any credible source?”

That depends on your definition of “credible,” I suppose. The American Spectator claimed to have hard reporting on the videoscreen story, although anonymously sourced.

Burton went on to say that the story is completely false, there is no, nor will there be, a videoscreen.

Really, the story is a little ridiculous on its face. The White House is “trying” to install a frickin’ videoscreen? The kind you can get put in your minivan at any K-Mart?

As for the idea that Obama is departing from other recent presidential behavior by using a teleprompter, The Toad Report provides abundant visual evidence to the contrary. Pictured making speeches with teleprompters featured clearly are Reagan and both Bushes, as well as candidates McCain and Palin, and Gov. Bobby Jindal. The most obvious is the speech Bush 43 read on the deck of an aircraft carrier when he proclaimed, three months into his invasion of Iraq, that major combat operations were over.

“It’s just something presidents haven’t done” — presidential historian Martha Joynt Kumar

What I really take from all this is not that Obama speaks and thinks just fine without a telepromter. Three live debates with John McCain as well as scores of one-on-one interviews on 60 Minutes and other news shows already told me that. No, I come back, once again to the old standby: Mr. Mustard, in the library, with racism.

Racism is at the heart of rightwing disbelief that a black man would be as stunningly brilliant and yes, articulate, as Barack Obama. It’s just hard to think of what else would explain attempts to dismiss Obama on intellectual grounds, of all things. These are the same folks who wanted to enjoy a beer with Bush, who weren’t even slightly perturbed that he couldn’t make it through a speech without screwing up, even with a teleprompter. Doubtlessly that’s because he was so like them, and Obama is, thankfully, so not.


  • judith
    April 19, 2009 - 8:20 pm | Permalink

    are they THAT desperate for something to bi*@# and monan about? it’s nice having a president who speaks accurately for a change.

  • judith
    April 19, 2009 - 8:21 pm | Permalink

    oops, moan, my bad.

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