NYT: Silly Conservatives Overreact to Obama's Harmless Speech to Schoolkids

On Tuesday, education reporter Sam Dillon filed "In School Speech Obama Avoids Political Issues," on what Dillon clearly considered to be the silly conservative overreaction to Obama's nationally televised speech to students as a new school year begins. Dillon ignored the fact that the Department of Education had sent out guidelines (later withdrawn) to principals urging that children "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president," and saw nothing but smooth sailing for Obama and his innocuous message:

Ignoring the uproar surrounding his back-to-school address, President Obama plans to urge America's schoolchildren on Tuesday to dream big dreams and respect their teachers, to study hard and learn from failure.

"We can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world," Mr. Obama will tell students, according to remarks released in advance by the White House. "And none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."

In recent days, conservative talk show hosts and some Republican leaders have attacked plans for the speech, ascribing dark motives to the White House, and parents from Virginia to California have besieged schools with calls. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the uproar "silly," and over the weekend some Republicans distanced themselves from the critics.

After reading the text on Monday, even Jim Greer, the Florida Republican Party chairman who last week accused the president of seeking to use the speech to foist "socialist ideology" on schoolchildren, said he could find nothing to criticize in its text.

Dillon marshaled some anecdotal evidence to argue for a pro-Obama backlash in at least one place, Guilford County in North Carolina:

Last week many Guilford County parents called schools in anger, many after hearing conservative radio attacks on the planned speech. By week's end, other parents were expressing anger at the district's intention to allow parents to opt out, she said.

Dillon's Wednesday follow-up story after the speech itself, "Presidential Pep Talk Kicks Off Year for Students," assured readers the controversy had been much ado about nothing but Obama and "classrooms cheering" and applauding his nationally broadcast address:

Millions of American schoolchildren, oblivious to the uproar that preceded a back-to-school speech by President Obama, heard him exhort them to greatness on Tuesday, watching, applauding and in some classrooms cheering a nationally broadcast address that urged them to set high goals, knuckle down in their studies and persevere through failure.

"Don't ever give up on yourself, because when you give up on yourself you give up on your country," Mr. Obama told students packed into a high school gymnasium in a Washington suburb.

Several school districts in Maryland, Texas, Virginia and other states, where clamor by conservatives accusing the White House of partisan motives was loudest, decided not to show the speech. Some school officials said schedules were too packed to accommodate a presidential interruption, while others said they had taped the speech to show later this week.


By the time Mr. Obama took the microphone at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., just before noon, most of the sizzle and smoke was gone from the conservative firestorm leading up to the address.

Right-wing radio commentators had moved on to other topics, and the infuriated parents who besieged school offices in at least a dozen states from Virginia to California had mostly stopped calling.