Primetime Dud: Obama Disappoints with Long-Winded, Vague Press Conference

When will the broadcast networks and their news divisions finally realize that, as much as they love him, President Obama is costing them an arm and a leg? They keep giving up millions in ad revenue for primetime presidential news conferences and other specials, and in return they get only vague answers to serious questions about his policy proposals?

President Barack Obama’s press conference at 8 p.m. on July 22 was advertised as an opportunity to resolve any of the unanswered policy questions reporters had about the health care initiative he and congressional leaders are attempting to push into law.

An analysis of Obama’s conference indicates the president took 11 questions from 10 reporters over the course of 46 minutes. The 10 reporters took a total of five minutes to ask their questions. The President 41 total minutes to reply to them.


Obama also included an eight-minute opening statement prior to answering questions. Each response took Obama an average of three minutes and 42 seconds to complete. However, the president’s first question, from Associated Press correspondent Ben Feller, took the president seven minutes and 28 seconds to reply to.

The July 22 event was Obama’s fifth formal press conference, but his fourth in primetime. According to a Feb. 6 column by Lisa de Moraes, television columnist for The Washington Post, these uninterrupted hour-long events cost the broadcast networks $9 million.

Nonetheless, the three major broadcast networks have continued to forfeit their prime broadcast time for this president to use the bully pulpit to promote his agenda. That includes a June 24 broadcast special that took up two separate shows on ABC for the same issue of health care, which was supposed to answer all the questions about the president’s health care proposals back then.

Liberal Media Not Impressed


Following the presidential news conference, MSNBC, the left-leaning cable offshoot of NBC News, dedicated three hours to takeaway coverage of the news conference, but two of three hosts admitted they were disappointed with the president’s performance.

MSNBC host Ed Schultz opened his “postgame” analysis of the July 22 President’s conference distressed Obama wasn’t more specific about what he wanted to achieve.

“Now I give the president an absolute 10 when it comes to sincerity on wanting to get this thing about health care done,” Schultz said. “But tonight, the president failed to guarantee to the American people what they really wanted to hear and that’s all about a public option. At times he seemed a bit disheartened about the political wrangling that’s going on overall in Washington. He seemed borderline low-key at times. It was like the president was back in college in front of a classroom explaining exactly where he is when it comes to health care. I was somewhat disappointed at times tonight because this was billed as a major primetime news conference on health care. It was primetime press conference number four.”

And Schultz later admitted the press conference was really much to do about nothing.

“But I got to be totally honest with you, if you’re looking for major breaking news out of this press conference, then folks it just wasn’t there and that’s the analysis we’ve got to give early on tonight,” Schultz said.

“Hardball” host Chris Matthews, known for his strong emotional reactions to President Obama, also admitted he was disappointed, but made excuses for Obama on his July 22 show.

“I had a hard time getting the big message out of the President tonight,” Matthews said. “I think he may be very tired and I think this getting up at 5 o’clock with barbells every morning or whatever, his schedule doesn’t permit being brilliant at 8 o’clock at night apparently. It was a missed opportunity, I think, to get a big message across anyway, and we need that message.”

And Newsweek Senior Washington Correspondent and MSNBC regular Howard Fineman told Rachel Maddow on her July 22 program that the presser was a goose egg, at least politically.

“But I’ve got to say Rachel, politically, as a political reporter, I don’t really see what he got out of this thing tonight,” Fineman said. “I think he seemed a little tired. I think he was kind of, there was not a lot of news in it. I know that he wants to play his cards close to the vest in terms of negotiating with the Hill. But, I think for those who wanted him to come out to declare more specifically and forcefully, what he wanted to see in the bill – it was notable more for the absence of that than for the inclusion of it.”

But despite their disappointment in Obama’s July 22 performance, a study by the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute found the media tend not to be overly critical of the President health care policy. The study examined 224 stories about health care on the three broadcast networks’ morning and evening shows that aired between Jan. 20, the date of Obama’s inauguration, and June 24, and found they are reluctant to include reporting about cost and tended to exaggerate the number of uninsured, which bolsters Obama’s case.