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June 22nd 2009 print

David Flint

Why did the media mislead us about President Obama?

President Obama was using an autocue in Cairo, but the media tried to hide it. This is testimony of a wider malaise.

Watching President Obama on television giving his celebrated speech in Cairo, I was impressed by his delivery. But I suspected he was using an autocue. It was as though he were watching tennis, moving his head from left to right and back. But try as I could I could not see the tell tale transparent sheets of glass.  In addition he was looking up, and not down, where the autocues normally are. I was frustrated by the way the President was filmed.  It seemed there were only two cameras. One gave a long close up, so you could not see any autocue. The other was so far away you could barely see him.

I had the same feeling about the inauguration. Why should this concern me? If he were using cards as prompts , or even reading his speech as our Prime Minister does, I would not have been concerned. Either would have been obvious.

That he was using an autocue was neither here nor there. What was important was that if he were using one, why had the television network gone to such lengths to hide it? And why had not the press reported this?

I must say that if the President had been using an autocue, the network did a better job in hiding it than the ABC did when Rupert Murdoch delivered the ABC Boyer Lecture at the Opera House.

In any event I was interested to see this letter from Frank Bellet of Petrie Queensland which was published in The Australian on 8 June:-

Your glowing editorial nominating Barack Obama as the “orator of our age” ("Obama sets the terms for debates to come”, 6-7/6) was just too much for me; I had to respond, even if all I achieve is to get it off my chest.

In Cairo, Obama did not give a speech, he delivered a paper with the help of two teleprompters. He read every word. If Obama can be described as an orator, then the word has lost its meaning. Move to the later scene in Dresden, where “orator” Obama was required to answer questions off the cuff from the crowd, without his teleprompters. His ability to speak fluently was so bad, I would describe his performance as worse than any I have heard from any politician anywhere, anytime. His inarticulate delivery was pockmarked with so many “ums” and “ahs” and long pauses, searching for that right word, even I was embarrassed for him.

My idea of an orator is someone who is able to speak fluently for 30 minutes on a subject with which they are familiar, either without notes or with the help of a small piece of paper containing about four words as prompts.

This incident is testimony to the way in which the media have abandoned their role of making clear the distinction between fact and comment, and manipulating fact to conform to campaign journalism. The American media campaigned strongly for Mr Obama in the election, and manipulated the news to this end. This was reflected in much of the Western media. And as we saw in Cairo, there still seems to be a need to make the President into something he is not – in this instance, another Churchill.

This has been mirrored in Australia. Since the election, most in the media have gone soft on the government. It has  not been subjected to the same rigour as the Howard government always was. This flows through to the crucial commercial television news. Too often this sounds as if the presenter is reading government press releases.

This is important. The great majority now receive their news from short TV and radio bulletins. The young especially rarely read newspapers. They do see the headlines and read a few articles on the web, but that is not reading a newspaper. It is no surprise then that the opinion polls are so supportive of a government which in economic terms is clearly at the lower level of competence.

The one significant change has been the so called Utegate affair. That the government should be called to account on this recalls Al Capone being convicted for taxation breaches. Many journalists ignored or downplayed all the evidence of financial incompetence, and the dangers flowing from that, but see a degree of soap like drama in the game which is being played out in Canberra.

The journalistic profession surely has a duty to present the news in accordance with accepted ethical standards.

This means that the Rudd government must be treated with the same rigour as the Howard government was. And this is manifestly not occurring.