Even though President Obama clearly stammered and struggled in some answers last night, especially the odd New York Times four-parter, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales loved "Obama's Enchanting Quizfest" (as the headline announced), and stressed how much better he was than Bush:
Barack Obama is a truly flabbergasting president. And in a good way -- not the way some of his predecessors were. He's not flabberghastly....
His verbiage is a melting pot that's always bubbling. A few times, he did stumble over words, and once or twice appeared semantically stranded, unable to find the precise language he wanted to use. But compare him with his predecessor and such moments seem trifling.
He didn't call him "President Wonderful" as he did after the last prime-time presser, but Shales said Obama was not only smarter than Bush, but obviously smarter than every reporter in the room:
When Obama answers a question, you don't slap your forehead and moan, "Oh, brother!" He is, as guest expert David Gergen noted on CNN after the news conference, not only "up to speed" on the pressing issues of our time but also articulate about addressing them in a friendly, accessible way. He's not the student who wears a button that says, "Smartest kid in class," but clearly he is, at least when surrounded by the White House press corps.
He loved Obama so much so he even accused the networks of trying to distract from his skills:
The TV networks always get a little jealous when a president, or any news figure, turns out to be a great communicator. They start looking for ways to distract viewers. During the early minutes of the news conference, ABC ran little poll questions and news squibs at the bottom of the screen. That was just video gingerbread, and wildly unnecessary at that.
Meanwhile, CNN, in what looked an awful lot like desperation, embedded the news conference in a day-long (or is it week-long) gimmicky "National Report Card" routine, as hired experts and members of Congress rated the president on this and that. Graphically speaking, it was a mess, and one sympathized with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer and other CNN talents caught up in one of those Producers' Brainstorms that didn't work....
MSNBC showed its strengths -- at least two of them, anyway -- by going to ravaging Keith Olbermann and ravishing Rachel Maddow. Two smart people are a lot better than an arsenal of computerly contraptions.
Shales took the Royal Flatterer routine to its natural breaking point, as he proclaimed that Obama took steps to address the ridiculous notion that he's interested in growing the government, but those who say that are so predictably strident, so far from the Obama spirit of cooperation:
Obama doesn't want to run car companies or banks, he said late in the session: "I've got enough to do." He was deflecting criticism from those who contend he wants to grow the government. The disbelievers will still be unconvinced, but there appear to be relatively few of them, and many are just the predictable strident voices of the kind of partisan pedantry that Obama has said he abhors.
Shales should really look at the top of page 1 today of his own newspaper, where they report Team Obama's finalizing a plan to oust the chief executive of Chrysler and take the auto maker through the bankruptcy process.