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Networks Hype Obama's 'Powerful' Commencement Speech; Set Aside Over Five Minutes of Air Time

ABC, CBS, and NBC touted President Obama's Sunday commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on their Sunday evening and Monday morning newscasts, devoting a total of five minutes and 14 seconds to the "powerful speech," as NBC's Tamron Hall labeled it on Monday's Today. On Monday's CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell gushed, "I think it's one of those speeches that will be looked at over the years."

Lester Holt played up the President's apparent "voice of experience" on Sunday's NBC Nightly News, and asserted that "the President is sharing in a way we rarely hear him."

Holt played 1 minute and 29 seconds of soundbites from the President's speech uninterrupted on the NBC evening newscast. The anchor twice teased the segment with his "voice of experience" phrase, underlining that the chief executive advised "graduates to set an example and points to his own struggles as a man of color." Just before playing the clips from Mr. Obama's address, Holt pointed out that "the President spoke in very personal terms, tying Dr. King's journey to his own struggles growing up."

By contrast, fill-in anchor Jim Axelrod gave a 35-second news brief on the President's Morehouse speech on Sunday's CBS Evening News. Sunday's World News on ABC set aside 42 seconds in wider report about commencement addresses to the Democrat's speech, but also mentioned First Lady Michelle Obama's address to a high school graduation ceremony in Nashville.

The following morning, CBS This Morning played a 11-second clip of President Obama near the very beginning of the program. Fifty minutes later, O'Donnell and co-anchor Charlie Rose devoted a 1 minute, 4 second-segment to the Morehouse College commencement. Rose noted how his colleague was "saying how much you thought this speech was so in tune with a man trying to give you some sense of my experience." She replied with her "one of those speeches that will be looked at over the years" line.

On Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos followed the lead of World News in spotlighting both speeches from Mr. and Mrs. Obama during a larger segment. Altogether, the ABC morning newscast aired 49 seconds of reporting on the addresses. On Today, Chuck Todd mentioned the President's appearance at Morehouse at the end of a report on the IRS' targeting of conservative groups. Just under an hour later, Hall gave a 14-second news brief on the second-term executive's address where she used her "powerful" label. The NBC morning show's coverage of the President's speech totaled one minute and 1 second.

The transcripts of ABC, CBS, and NBC's coverage of President Barack Obama's commencement speech at Morehouse College on the Sunday evening and Monday morning newscasts:

05/19/2013
06:16 pm EDT
ABC – World News

DAVID MUIR: Graduation season is upon us tonight. And the President among the headliners offering advice this weekend, some of it a bit stinging. And there was the famous mayor who suggested students are so-so, in his words, to skip college completely, becoming a plumber, making his case why. Here's ABC's Susan Saulny.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know some of you are just graduating "thank you, Lordy."   

SUSAN SAULNY (voice-over): There was no sugar-coating reality the in the commencement speech President Obama delivered to Morehouse College in the steady rain.

OBAMA: That whatever you've gone through, it pales in comparison to what previous generations endured.

SAULNY: In fact, the speech was more reality check than anything.

OBAMA: Michelle will tell you I'm not perfect.

SAULNY: And she did. First Lady Michelle Obama told a high school graduating class in Nashville, to achieve success, they must experience failure.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I could take up a whole afternoon talking about his failures, but – he lost his first race for Congress, and now, he gets to call himself my husband.


05/19/2013
06:12 pm EDT
CBS Evening News

JIM AXELROD: President Obama gave the commencement address today at Martin Luther King's alma mater, Morehouse College, a historically-black, all-male school in Atlanta. Mr. Obama challenged the graduates to stay focused on family.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from commencement speech at Morehouse College): Be the best husband to your wife  – or your boyfriend or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children, because nothing's more important.


05/19/2013
06:51 pm EDT
NBC Nightly News

LESTER HOLT: At his commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta today, President Obama paid tribute to the alma mater of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The President spoke in very personal terms, tying Dr. King's journey to his own struggles growing up.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from commencement speech at Morehouse College): We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices and I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there's no longer any room for excuses.

Be the best husband to your wife – or your boyfriend or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children, because nothing's more important. Whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held, have depended less on Ivy League degrees or S.A.T. scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy – the special obligation I felt as a black man, like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn't have the opportunities that I had. Because there – but for the grace of God, go I – I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.

HOLT: The President is sharing in a way we rarely hear him at Morehouse College today.


05/20/2013
07:18 am EDT
ABC – Good Morning America

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, to some surprising and inspiring messages for America's next generation of leaders. It was a big weekend for graduations – everybody from President Obama to Annie Lennox. And here's a sample from some of the most compelling commencement speeches.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from commencement speech at Morehouse College): I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I might have been imprisoned. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.

MICHELLE OBAMA: So often, failure is the key to success for so many great people. Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. Now, she doesn't even need a last name.

...

B. OBAMA: Some of you are graduating summa cum laude. Some of you are just graduating, thank you, Lordy.


05/20/2013
07:51 am EDT
CBS This Morning

NORAH O'DONNELL: It is graduation time, and across the country this weekend, commencement speakers tried to entertain or inspire.

CHARLIE ROSE: President Obama spoke Sunday at the historically-black Morehouse College in Atlanta.

[CBS News Graphic: Class Of 2013: President Obama Speaks To Morehouse College Grads"]

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (from commencement speech at Morehouse College): I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved – didn't know my dad.  And so, my whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home (audience applauds); where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.

ROSE: You were saying how much you thought this speech was so in tune with a man trying to give you some sense of my experience.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, and I think he was delivering a direct message to this historically all-male black college, saying – you know, set an example in your own personal lives. And I think it's one of those speeches that will be looked at – you know, over the years.

ROSE: Speeches are important.


05/20/2013
07:08 am EDT
NBC – Today

CHUCK TODD: Meanwhile, as for the President, he spent his Sunday in Atlanta. He was the commencement speaker at the historically-black college, Morehouse College, and he had an interesting message there, particularly aimed at African-American men. Take a listen.

[NBC News Graphic: "Candid Commencement; Obama Opens Up On Race In Address"]

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from commencement speech at Morehouse College): Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there's no longer any room for excuses.

TODD: It was actually an interesting message that both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have given. Both of them of given separate commencements at historically black colleges this year, Savannah.


05/20/2013
08:04 am EDT
NBC – Today

[NBC News Graphic: "President's Weekend: Stubborn Scandal, Powerful Speech"]

TAMRON HALL: Meantime, Sunday, the President delivered a powerful speech to graduates of the all-male, historically-black Morehouse College. He told them there's no longer any room for excuses, and urged them to send a good – or set a good example for – quote, 'that young brother coming up'.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.