For once, the fractious fraternity of talk show hosts was united about something last week—Barack Obama’s ability to put words together.
“His speech was excellent,” declared conservative MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan, after Obama’s March 18 speech on race designed to quell the furor over the inflammatory rhetoric of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Sitting next to Buchanan, African-American radio host Joe Madison concurred, calling it “an outstanding speech.”
On Dan Abrams’ MSNBC program, Democratic strategist Laura Schwartz declared it “an amazing speech in a great context.” Her counterpart, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson characterized it as “a smart speech…an interesting speech.”
On his radio show, liberal host Ed Schultz gushed that Obama’s address had “taken it to another level.” Across the dial, even conservative talk powerhouse Rush Limbaugh called it “flowery and fabulous and well-delivered”—without much hint of mockery.
If it seemed like Obama’s big speech—often characterized as his most important of the campaign—was the only subject on pundits’ minds last week, that’s not far wrong. According to PEJ’s Talk Show Index for March 17-23, the presidential campaign accounted for an astounding 83% of all the airtime on the cable and talk radio shows examined. (That more than doubled the 39% of the general newshole filled by the campaign.) And last week, the focus on the campaign trail was on the Obama/Wright relationship and the Illinois Senator’s effort to try and explain it. (A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found the public has paid more attention to the Wright sermons and the Obama speech than to any other campaign-related events.)
But despite widespread appreciation for Obama’s rhetorical skills across the ideological spectrum, there were significant differences in the talk show world over its substance. And those differences centered on Wright, whose racially divisive and anti-American sentiments were widely disseminated on video in recent days. That created an environment in which Obama apparently felt the risk of not responding to those words outweighed the potential downside of bringing the issue front and center in a major address.
Read the full report Talk Show Hosts Agree Obama Speech Was Boffo Theater but Some See the Script as Unconvincing on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.