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President Obama shakes hands in Bettendorf, Iowa, June 28, 2011, his teleprompter in the foreground. (AP)

Obama's Lost Teleprompter: Why Ridicule Him For Using It Anyway?

Oct 18, 2011

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Frank James

As Mark Memmott reported over at our NPR The Two-Way newsblog, the truck carrying President Obama's teleprompter and other equipment was stolen from the hotel parking lot in Virginia where it was parked. The truck later turned up at another hotel. Weird.

Obviously, this is creating some mirth, especially among the president's critics who point to his use of a device that all modern presidents have relied on as some sort of character flaw.

If nothing else, the incident is an opportunity to ask why Obama has so often been ridiculed for using the teleprompter when it's a standard-issue piece of equipment now for presidents and other officials who frequently deliver important speeches?

The teleprompter meme would make more sense if the president were widely viewed as a dolt who couldn't say "good morning" without first consulting a teleprompter.

But that clearly isn't the case. According to a recent poll, most Americans, even many who don't like him, grant that the president is a smart man. So his use of the teleprompter doesn't seem to be about underscoring some widely held notion that he's a dim bulb.

Also, if it's the technology is the problem, would it be better for the president to go old school and read his speeches from sheets of paper on the podium in front of him?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, started out reading his speeches this way. He read his presidential announcement speech in South Carolina and his pro-Israel speech in New York from a text in front of him.

So instead of looking through a clear plastic panel out into the audience, he spent a lot of time looking down to read his speech and flip pages. That's an improvement?

Worth noting is that when Perry delivered his energy plan speech last week at a steel plant outside Pittsburgh, he used a teleprompter. Mitt Romney, another top-tier Republican candidate, also used a teleprompter at his recent national security speech. The recent Values Voter Summit of social conservatives in Washington deployed a teleprompter.

So are only some politicians allowed to use teleprompters without ridicule and others aren't? And if that's so, why is that?

Another separate point. The temporary theft of the teleprompter clearly exposes an embarrassing security lapse. Silly me, but I assumed that when the president was on the road as he is now with his bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia, the traveling equipment needed for his events was under constant security to prevent this very sort of incident.

It's safe to say that security for the equipment trucks is being reviewed.

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