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Was President Bush a good television President? -- VIDEO

by Richard Keller, posted Jan 19th 2009 10:02AM

How was Bush as a television President?Now, before you raise your pitchforks in a move to skewer me as a "liberal journalist," I just want to clarify what this item will be about. This is not an article about the job President Bush has done over the last eight years. You all have your differing opinions (which should be vented on politically-based sites) about how good or bad he did when it comes to policy. What I am going to talk about here is more of an image issue than a job performance one. We good? Good!

I'm going to ask a simple question: Was George W. Bush a good television President? Let's face it, the way that any famous person, whether they be Hollywood star or politician, is prepped for the TV cameras can make or break that person. Take the example of the Kennedy-Nixon televised debate in 1960. While many people have said that Nixon 'won' the debate on his statements, they also say that the way he looked in front of the cameras made voters uneasy about him and, eventually, cost him the election.

So it goes when someone becomes the President of the United States. Whether or not a person voted for the person sitting in the Oval Office, the comfort level he or she feels when seeing this person on television can lead to a feeling of confidence or uneasiness in the way he president is leading the nation. It's been that way since Eisenhower began to utilize the power of the then-new technology back in the early 50s. It's even more prevalent today as we live in a world of instantaneous news.

When it comes to President Bush -- again, this is solely on his television performances -- the presence just wasn't there. Now, I'm not saying this was the case every single time he had a press conference or addressed the nation. Fact is, when we really needed him to keep this country calm during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was there for us as a handle to grasp onto in a period of huge uncertainty. He also outdid himself during the nationwide anthrax scare and the war in Afghanistan.

Other than that, he and television weren't friends. No matter what he did, TV made him look less intelligent than he really was. He hemmed, he hawed, he paused for long periods of time to answer questions from the press. He always seemed to squint -- maybe from the lights or maybe because he was having trouble seeing something. For some, the way he acted in front of the cameras may have been considered homespun. For others, it just added to their feelings of uneasiness about the President and his actions.

I don't place the blame for this all on him. Personally, I think some of his people gave him poor advice on how to act in front of the TV cameras. I mean, that can be the only reason why he spoke to the nation in the spring of 2003 with a 'Mission Accomplished' banner behind him. Perhaps they were thinking of Presidents Carter and Truman -- two of our more modern "down home" leaders -- when they gave him advice on how to handle speeches and press conferences.

Thing is, it doesn't seem like President Bush was always this way. As early as the 1994 Texas Gubernatorial debates, Bush looked to be a very good speaker. Even during the 2000 Presidential debates, Bush appeared calm and sure of himself on camera. Was it the weight and stress of the office that weighed him down to the point that he always looked unsure and somewhat sinister to us viewers? That's the only reason I can think of for his reactions.

So, what's your opinion on this? Once again,forget his job performance for the last two terms. Was George W. Bush a good President for television or not? I await for heated opinions.

Was President Bush as good television President?
Yes24 (16.2%)
No89 (60.1%)
Sometimes yes, sometimes no35 (23.6%)

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Was George W. Bush a good television President?

No. He wasn't a good President. Period.

January 19 2009 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

LOLOL, Jennifer!

I forgot about the war on terr,

January 19 2009 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Howard

The man can't manage to string together a coherent sentence to save his life, so I'd say that's bad for TV from a presidential image standpoint, and good for TV from a comedy and entertainment value standpoint.

January 19 2009 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This topic was just being discussed on one of the news channels.

They were talking about how Barack Obama possesses the ability to project his charm to the American people. Bush, whom many opined was engaging on a personal level, did not convey that to the public.

Well...that and the fact that he mangled the English language every time he opened his mouth.

January 19 2009 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Dawn50's comment

I have so much work I should be doing, but this topic really got me to thinking.
Reagan and Clinton, I feel, were our best TV presidents. Their strength was utilizing the intimacy of the medium to speak directly to the American people. They could run the media triathilon- Direct address from the Oval Office, public speeches, and interview. To be a great TV prez, you have to master all three.
Television has never been the ideal medium for the Bushes as a political family. They are well-educated, priveleged (neither is meant as an insult), and can come across as a disconnected from the viewer, a little frosty. They are not just-plain-folks. Bush Sr. was not a great speaker, but a persuasive one. His strength was presenting himself as an elder scholar. His speeches had a distinctly instructive vibe. It worked for him until Clinton's patented empathy and working-class background made Bush Sr. appear out of touch by comparison.
I think the mistake in the selling of W. was in trying to trade on his relaxed, affable side, without recognizing he still had that family trait of seeming a little removed. He's an intelligent man, but not one of our great speakers, and they tried to give him a Reagan/Clinton quality that he could never quite sell. Intimacy doesn't quite work with him, and the energy in his direct addresses always felt a little TOO direct, like he was trying hard to forge that connection and all that showed was the effort. Bush was best in interviews, but cut back on doing them as the tide of public opinion turned against him. I don't think he lost confidence in his ability to lead the country, but I think he lost footing on how to sell it.
As for the folks we just saw in the last election, McCain was at his best in direct on-camera address and less so in speeches, lacking the energy to fill an arena. Sarah Palin complimented that with her broadcasting background, selling speeches AND direct address with extraordinary ease. But both candidates on that ticket were bad in interviews, McCain seeming irate and Palin seeming ill-prepared and defiant. I think the interviews are what REALLY hurt that ticket, TV-wise.
Hillary was a fantastic interview, and great with speeches, but direct address (her husband's strong suit), was DEATH for her. It brought out the worst in her.
Barack Obama is a genius in front of 200,000 supporters, and an awesome interview subject, but less so with the one-on-one, just him and a camera. He has Bush Sr.'s instructive vibe, which can alienate some, as it did with Bush Sr. Biden is not good in interviews because brevity is not his strong suit, but good with speeches and great with direct address. The ticket had that media balance, and it'll be interesting to see how that develops after tomorrow after they take the reins.
That was way long and rambly, but I just went with the thoughts as they popped up. Thanks for being patient with my jumbled mind.

January 19 2009 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Topher's comment

A comprehensive and well thought out "rambly" (to use your, um, word) post. I think you covered all the important aspects of each president/candidate pretty well for just a bunch of thoughts popping into your head.

January 19 2009 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the answer is clear to anyone who has seen Letterman's Great Moments in Presidential Speeches.

January 19 2009 at 10:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peter's comment
Thaddeus Collins

I couldn't agree more!

January 19 2009 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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