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Tuning Out Obama

It’s like the joke: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” “Yeah, I know — and such small portions.” Obama’s speech was widely panned, and he had such a small audience:

Barack Obama’s first address from the Oval Office delivered 32.1 million viewers Tuesday evening. The speech ranks as the president’s second least-watched major cross-network primetime event. … The 20-minute address was viewed across 11 networks — ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TEL, UNI, CNN, CNBC, FOXNC, MSNBC, and TWC. The audience is down 33% from Obama’s first State of the Union address in January and down 21% from his last primetime speech announcing a strategy for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan last December. Of Obama’s major addresses, last night was the least-watched telecast yet. But the president’s health care reform press conference last July pulled a smaller audience, drawing 24.7 million.

In other words, Obama is no longer a draw, and the public is tuning him out — and off. It is a function of both his overexposure and his polarizing effect. Everyone who wants to see him has seen plenty of him, and many can’t bear to watch/listen to him. Others who are sympathetic no doubt find it painful to watch him flounder. In this case, the tune-out inclination was exacerbated, I think, by the fact that the public — which is much savvier than Obama thinks — understood that the president wasn’t going to say anything of substance. This was a “save Obama” speech, not a “save the Gulf” speech.

A more self-disciplined and introspective president would know that being omnipresent isn’t the way to retain the public’s interest and affection. Quite the opposite.



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