Reporter Adam Nagourney's commentary on the front of Sunday's Week in Review dealt with pundit reaction to Obama's "dud" of an Oval Office address on the BP oil spill. Oddly titled "The Pundit Pillory ," the teaser read: "The commentators were merciless: The president's speech was a dud. Did anyone take their word for it?"
The reviews of President Obama's first address from the Oval Office came in fast and harsh.
On blogs, on a blur of cable news shows, on magazine Web sites, in the morning newspapers, the verdict within 12 hours was nearly unanimous: Mr. Obama's speech on Tuesday night about the oil spill had been pedantic, vague and uninspiring - a lost opportunity.
"It's the first Obama speech ever panned by the talking heads," Mike Allen reported in the Politico Playbook.
But so what? Does it really matter if you lose the pundits anymore?
Nagourney outlined the effect of "the vast multitudes blogging or posting Twitter updates or otherwise opining online" which is "diluting the influence of the mainstream media."
Also complicating matters is the mistrust of the news media: it is at an all-time high. Many Americans are more likely to assume that anyone they read or see on television has a political bias.Nagourney quoted a well-known Democratic pollster to bolster his argument that the pundits are irrelevant and that Obama remains safely above the negative fray.
The tough reviews of Mr. Obama's speech will probably have some impact on people's perceptions. But history suggests that the final public verdict is often quite different from the instant analysis. In one memorable case, many pundits declared that Senator John McCain won the second presidential debate with Mr. Obama, an analysis that was soon discredited by the polls that asked Americans who had won.
In the environment of opinion overload, people are more likely to base their judgments on what they can actually see, said Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. Mr. Obama's big Oval Office speech seemed a distant memory the very next day, when the president announced that he had forced BP to set up a $20 billion escrow account to cover losses from the spill. It seemed even more distant on Thursday, when Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, was forced to apologize for saying that BP had been subject to a $20 billion shakedown.
"I'm not impressed with the role of punditry in impacting public opinion," Mr. Greenberg said. "I just don't have any evidence of pundits driving it."
Indeed, though pundits have taken Mr. Obama to task over the past month, his voter approval rating - a tangible measure of his standing with the public - barely changed, hovering around 50 percent, at least through the end of the week.
No wonder the White House didn't seem overly flustered by the bad reaction.
It's not the first time Nagourney has questioned the significance of what his news media colleagues report when it reflects badly on Obama. In the March 21 Week in Review , Nagourney couldn't understand the fuss over mere "procedural stuff" involving a possible unprecedented Democratic tactic to pass Obama-care out of Congress:
Does anyone really care if the bill is posted on the Internet 72 hours before the vote? Or if Mr. Obama never fulfilled his pledge to conduct legislative negotiations in public? Or if a bill is passed with a simple majority or the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster?