December 10, 2016
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Fewer Black Journalists Cover Obama Speech

 The ultimate assessment might not have been different, but there were fewer African American voices than usual assessing President Obama's speech from the Oval Office Tuesday night on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'm not booked on CNN tonight, so listen at 7:15 am est on @tjmshow for my perspective," commentator Roland Martin tweeted.

Columnist Eugene Robinson was absent from MSNBC, but he wrote a quick blog item for the Washington Post.

BET and TV One went with their usual programming, although BET spokeswoman Jeanine Liburd noted, "We aired the President's speech LIVE on CENTRIC," BET's secondary network, "and we streamed LIVE on BET.com. We ran crawls on BET alerting our audience to both." She also said BET had covered the spill "in our news briefs on-air and on-line."

TV One spokeswoman Lynn McReynolds, asked whether that network had covered the spill in venues other than its Sunday public affairs show, "Washington Watch," said, "Washington Watch was created as a public affairs show to provide perspective on news issues like the oil spill . . . Washington Watch has covered it."

On CNN, reporter Joe Johns was among a panel of correspondents assessing the speech, and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a native of New Orleans, did a brief turn from the field. Juan Williams was part of the commentary team on Fox News Channel, and NBC's relatively brief broadcast television coverage was anchored by Lester Holt, who is substituting this week for "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams.

Among Spanish-language networks, Univision and Telemundo carried the speech live, anchored by Maria Elena Salinas and Jose Diaz-Balart, respectively. A Univision spokeswoman said that network's transmission of the speech was accompanied by a Spanish-speaking interpreter rendering Obama's remarks.

"Millions upon millions of gallons (liters) of polluting crude oil continue to spew into the Gulf nearly two months after the British-based company's Deep Horizon drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers and setting in motion an environmental and economic catastrophe," as the Associated Press noted on Wednesday.

In the first speech of his presidency from the Oval Office, Obama laid out what his administration has done and will do to overcome the country's worst environmental crisis. On Wednesday, BP "agreed to finance a $20 billion fund to pay the claims of people whose jobs and way of life have been damaged by the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, senior administration officials said Wednesday," the AP reported.

Obama announced in the speech that he would meet the next day with BP officials and demand that they compensate the spill victims.

However, "With nearly one-third of Obama’s 17-minute speech devoted to long-term energy reform, critics complained that the president gave the immediate crisis short shrift and provided no new details," Alexandra Fenwick wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review.

"The president has wasted a crisis," Cynthia Tucker declared in her blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The speech was flat and uninspiring. He recited a litany of the things the administration has done to try to bring the spill under control, but it was a rehash of things the public has already heard. Yes, he’s going to make BP pay. That’s good — as far as it goes. But he didn’t use the moment to assert a resolute sense of command.

"Nor did he use it to call on Americans to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to make the transition from petroleum to cleaner fuels. Yes, he said a little about it. But he didn’t even endorse the energy bill currently languishing in the Senate."

Robinson was equally disappointed. "The president was cool, determined, forceful — stylistically, all the things that the braying commentators said he had to be. But where was the substance? Specifically -- and urgently -- where was the new plan to contain the oil spill and protect the coastline? I wish I’d heard the president order the kind of all-out marshaling and deployment of resources that now seems imperative. But I didn’t," he wrote.

One of Obama's few public supporters of color seemed to be Marc Lamont Hill, an associate professor of education at Columbia University's Teachers College who appeared on National Public Radio's "Tell Me More."

"I would argue from a policy perspective, he didn't give enough detail," Hill said. "He didn't talk about what we're going to do for shallow water drilling. He didn't offer any concrete plan for how we can get off this fossil fuel addiction. From a policy standpoint, I don't think he said enough. But in terms of allaying the anxieties of the American people and moving forward his political agenda, I think he did a good job."

"One in five households with television sets watched President Obama’s Oval Office address about the Gulf oil spill disaster on Tuesday night, according to The Nielsen Company," Brian Stelter wrote for the New York Times. "An average of 24 million households and 32 million people tuned in to the almost-20-minute address, according to Nielsen, which only counts at-home viewing.

"Only a handful of telecasts — the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the finale of 'American Idol' — can garner more viewers than a presidential address in prime time. But the Tuesday night ratings hint at some fatigue among Americans, either toward President Obama or toward the oil spill."


The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education | 663 Thirteenth St., Suite 200, Oakland, CA 94612 | (510) 891-9202 

 



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