Conservative media run with dubious SkyNews claim of Obama "teleprompt blunder"

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Conservative media figures uncritically highlighted a SkyNews.com report that a "teleprompt blunder has led to Barack Obama thanking himself in a speech at the White House in a St Patrick's Day celebration." In fact, a pool report of the event released at the time indicates Obama was, in the words of the Telegraph's Toby Harnden, making "a good-natured and well-received joke" at the expense of Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who earlier in the event had mistakenly read from the teleprompter displaying Obama's speech.

Several conservative media figures -- including Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity -- have uncritically highlighted a March 18 SkyNews.com report that a "teleprompt blunder has led to Barack Obama thanking himself in a speech at the White House in a St Patrick's Day celebration." But as Toby Harnden, U.S. editor for the U.K.'s Telegraph, has noted, the pool report of Obama's March 17 event with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen indicates that in saying, "First, I'd like to say thank you to President Obama," Obama was, in Harnden's words, making "a good-natured and well-received joke" at the expense of Cowen, who earlier in the event had mistakenly read from the teleprompter displaying Obama's speech. Indeed, as early as March 18, Fox News anchor Bret Baier reported that Obama had "jokingly" made the comments in question.

SkyNews.com reported:

A teleprompt blunder has led to Barack Obama thanking himself in a speech at the White House in a St Patrick's Day celebration.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was just a few paragraphs into an address in Washington when he realised it all sounded a bit too familiar.

It was. He was repeating the speech President Barack Obama had just read from the same teleprompter.

Mr Cowen stopped, turned to the president and said: "That's your speech."

A laughing Mr Obama returned to the podium to take over but it seems the script had finally been switched and the US president ended up thanking himself for inviting everyone to the party.

Mr Obama is an accomplished orator but is becoming known in America as the "teleprompt president" over his reliance on the machine when he gives a speech.

By 8:07:27 a.m. ET on March 18, Drudge linked to the SkyNews.com article on his website's front page:

By 9:54:20 a.m. ET, Drudge revised the headline to "Teleprompter Blunder at White House":

That afternoon on his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh purported to explain how "the teleprompter totally embarrassed the president of the United States" during the St. Patrick's Day event, stating, "The British newspapers skewer Obama on this incident." Limbaugh claimed:

So here comes the Irish guy, he goes up to give a speech after Obama, and the teleprompter played a little game on everybody, doesn't switch the speeches.

So, the Irish guy gives the same speech for 20 seconds Obama gave, then suddenly realizes, "Wait a minute, I just heard this." So he turns to Obama and says, "That's your speech." Obama's ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Comes back to the podium. While Obama's on the way to the podium, the teleprompter very craftily, very shiftily put in the right text for the Irish guy, and Obama starts reading that. And he continues to read it until he thanks himself. Because the British -- the Irish guy's message in the prompter was "I wanna thank President Obama." So Obama thanked himself. At some point, do you not realize that -- just stop before you get to the point where you thank yourself. Of course, the British papers talk about, "What is this guy's dependency on the teleprompter here?"

Limbaugh went on to list a series of "questions for the teleprompter since it engaged in behavior last night that embarrassed both the Irish prime minister and the president of the United States."

Likewise, that night, Hannity stated on his Fox News program, "[L]ast night at the White House's St. Patrick Day's celebration, the president's reliance on his beloved teleprompter backfired when he tried to read, well, a regular old thank you off the teleprompter, which was still, by the way, displaying the previous speaker's remarks. Nonetheless, the president, he charged forward telling the group, quote, 'First, I'd like to thank -- to say thank you to President Obama.' " Hannity continued, "Now that's priceless. Now, given the president's arrogance, I'm not sure that feeling was totally misplaced, but come on, Mr. President, don't you think it might be time to give that teleprompter even a little rest? It's getting tired."

But the pool report of the event does not support the reports of SkyNews.com and the conservative media. In his March 17 pool report, National Journal's William Englund wrote:

Then it was Cowen's turn, and he was in for a surprise. "We begin by welcoming today a strong friend of the United States," he said--then stopped in surprise as he realized he was reading President Obama's speech off the teleprompter. "Why don't these things work for me?" he asked, as the crowd roared. "Thank you for having us. Who said these things were idiot-proof?" Then he got his bearings and gave the same talk that he delivered in the East Room.

When he ended, at 8:12, Obama stepped to the microphone and said, "First, I'd like to say thank you to President Obama...(much laughter). Happy Saint Patrick's Day, everybody." Then we were escorted out.

In a March 24 blog post, Harnden quoted Englund's pool report and wrote: "That was pretty clear: there was a teleprompter mix up and the fall guy was Cowen. Obama stepped in after Cowen's five-minute speech to make a good-natured and well-received joke at the Irish premier's expense." Harnden further reported that he had obtained an audio recording of the event that confirms Englund's poll report and "removes all doubt" Obama was joking:

I've exchanged emails with Englund and he confirmed this was the case and kindly supplied me with an audio file of the event that removes all doubt.

In the recording, Cowen begins speaking by ad libbing, saying: "Good evening everybody and welcome to St Patrick's Day at the White House. And I think it's particularly fitting that we gather tonight at the house that was, after all, designed and built by an Irish architect."

Then he goes into Obama's speech, and realises his boob 18 words into it: "We have had a wonderful day that began by meeting with a strong friend of the United States...that's your speech."

After Cowen got his act together - amid uproarious laughter - and completed his speech, Obama returned to the microphone for his little joke, as per the pool report.

Indeed, Baier and CNN correspondent Jeanne Moos also reported Obama was joking. On the March 18 edition of Special Report -- hours before Hannity stated that the St. Patrick's Day event indicated that Obama's "reliance on his beloved teleprompter backfired" -- Baier reported:

There were no cameras allowed at last night's gathering, but a print reporter says Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was a few paragraphs into his remarks when he realized suddenly he was repeating the exact same speech President Obama had just delivered. Cowen stopped and turned to the president, saying, "That's your speech." Mr. Obama laughed and returned to the podium to offer what might have been Cowen's remarks, in doing so, President Obama jokingly thanked President Obama for inviting everyone over.

Similarly, on the March 23 edition of The Situation Room, Moos reported that at the event: "The wrong speech got inserted in the prompter. The Irish prime minister started reading President Obama's speech. He quickly realizes, amid much laughter, that something is amiss. Then, when President Obama comes back to the podium, he jokingly says, as if he's reading the wrong speech: 'First, I'd like to say thank you to President Obama.' "

From the March 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: So, anyway, the big, big bashes -- big parties in the middle of bonuses and a recession and an economic downturn -- big parties at the White House last night. And the teleprompter totally embarrassed the president of the United States. I've read accounts of this in the U.S. drive-by media, and they pretty much present Obama as a guy who saved the day with his cool, his aplomb, his calm demeanor. The British newspapers skewer Obama on this incident.

Here is what happened. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was just a few paragraphs into his speech in Washington when he realized that it all sounded a bit too familiar. And it was. He was repeating the speech that the teleprompter had told Obama to say mere moments ago. The teleprompter forgot to change speeches from Obama's to Cowen's. So Cowen stopped, he turned to the president and said, "That's your speech." I'm surprised it took him 20 seconds to figure out it wasn't his. So Obama started laughing. And Obama went back to the podium to take over, but when Obama got there -- this is hilarious. When Obama got there, the teleprompter had been switched back to the Cowen speech. The teleprompter switched back to the Cowen speech while Obama was laughing and heading to the podium.

So, when Obama then reached the podium to try to coolly, calmly save the day, he ended up thanking himself for throwing a huge party. Because he ended up reading the speech the teleprompter wrote for the Irish prime minister. The script had been switched, and Obama ended up thanking himself for inviting everybody to the party. Now, stop and think of this. It's a party. It's a party. You have to assume that the adult beverages are flowing. I don't know about the president, and don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting anything here, but it's a party -- it's a St. Patrick's Day, Shamrock Day party, you gotta assume this. So here come the Irish guy, who goes up to make a speech after Obama, and the teleprompter playing a little game on everybody, doesn't switch the speeches.

So, the Irish guy gives the same speech for 20 seconds Obama gave, then suddenly realizes, "Wait a minute, I just heard this." So he turns to Obama and says, "That's your speech." Obama's ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Comes back to the podium. While Obama's on the way to the podium, the teleprompter very craftily, very shiftily put in the right text for the Irish guy, and Obama starts reading that. And he continues to read it until he thanks himself. Because the British -- the Irish guy's message in the prompter was "I wanna thank President Obama." So Obama thanked himself. At some point, do you not realize that -- just stop before you get to the point where you thank yourself. Of course, the British papers talk about, "What is this guy's dependency on the teleprompter here?" The U.S. media is talking about his quick-wittedness. And his -- to not use a teleprompter. That's another thing -- a party. It's a party, folks, a freaking party, and there's a teleprompter at a party. I don't use a teleprompter, period.

Fine, folks, I'll tell you. We -- I have some questions for the teleprompter. You know, this is -- this is -- this is getting out of hand. Wait a minute, our microphones just arrived at the Rose Garden. Can we jip -- who's there? Oh, Geithner's standing there, still looking -- nah, they're taking questions. Kathleen is rolling on this. If there's anything interesting from this, we'll have the audio sound bites coming up.

I have -- I have some questions for the teleprompter since it engaged in behavior last night that embarrassed both the Irish prime minister and the president of the United States. I mean, when a teleprompter -- he has somebody who's as great an orator as the president to thank himself for throwing a party, you've got to love this prompter.

So, teleprompter, do you have a name? Teleprompter, in your opinion, how is President Obama doing so far? Did he convey the level of anger you hoped for regarding what you told him to say about AIG? Teleprompter, is the president ever argumentative with you, or is he compliant with your instructions? Teleprompter, have you ever thought about helping Secretary Geithner or do you work for just one person?

Teleprompter, how are you and the first lady getting along? Are you dating anybody, teleprompter? Mac or PC?

There's a rumor, teleprompter, that you send out a small shock to the president when he mispronounces words or mangled phrases you tell him to say or that you can even make him cough. Is that true?

Teleprompter, in private, is Joe Biden as buffoonish as he is in public? Tell us, we want to know. How does it feel, teleprompter, to be the first teleprompter for an American president? You're the first teleprompter -- capital F -- first teleprompter.

Teleprompter, as a consumer of electricity, how do you feel about cap and trade? Are you -- do you feel threatened and endangered?

Teleprompter, do you listen to talk radio? Would you consider yourself a dittohead?

When did you first meet Barack Obama, teleprompter? And are you paid with taxpayer money, and if so, did you have to fill out Obama's questionnaire before you were hired as first teleprompter?

And teleprompter, what are your plans post-presidency? Will you retire to Silicon Valley or will you tell Obama what to say when he's giving speeches at a million dollars per year after his presidency? And finally, teleprompter, are you nervous about President Obama appearing with "The Chin" on the Tonight show without you?

From the March 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: And finally tonight, much has been made of the president's over-reliance on his teleprompter. Now, there were those embarrassing moments on the campaign trail when it malfunctioned, and surprise, well, he wasn't the great speaker that everybody said he was. And then there was Politico.com's report just a couple of weeks ago about how he actually travels with his teleprompter and uses it to deliver even the shortest of speeches.

Well, last night at the White House's St. Patrick Day's celebration, the president's reliance on his beloved teleprompter backfired when he tried to read, well, a regular old thank you off the teleprompter, which was still, by the way, displaying the previous speaker's remarks.

Nonetheless, the president, he charged forward telling the group, quote, "First, I'd like to thank -- to say thank you to President Obama."

Now that's priceless. Now, given the president's arrogance, I'm not sure that feeling was totally misplaced, but come on, Mr. President, don't you think it might be time to give that teleprompter even a little rest? It's getting tired.

And that is the news tonight from Hannity's America. Let not your heart be troubled, the "Great American Panel" is straight ahead.

From the March 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BAIER: And finally, it seems like the luck of the Irish wasn't quite with the White House's teleprompter operator at Tuesday evening's St. Patrick's Day celebration. As we have reported, President Obama uses the teleprompter on most speeches and even at town hall events.

There were no cameras allowed at last night's gathering, but a print reporter says Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was a few paragraphs into his remarks when he realized suddenly he was repeating the exact same speech President Obama had just delivered. Cowen stopped and turned to the president, saying, "That's your speech." Mr. Obama laughed and returned to the podium to offer what might have been Cowen's remarks. In doing so, President Obama jokingly thanked President Obama for inviting everyone over.

The attorney general says it is possible that some terror suspects now at Guantanamo Bay could be released onto the streets of American cities. National correspondent Catherine Herridge has this story -- hi, Catherine.

From the March 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (anchor): When the president of the United States stumbles during a speech, often the teleprompter gets the blame. Well, now the teleprompter is clearing the air. CNN's Jeanne Moos has a "Moost Unusual" look at a "Moost Unusual" blog.

[begin video clip]

MOOS: I'm his teleprompter.

OBAMA: The American people are watching.

MOOS: But hopefully not watching me, with my scrolling words reflected onto slim glass panels that let the speaker seem brilliant. I've tried to stay invisible.

OBAMA: Don't mind the [unintelligible].

MOOS: But now I'm spilling my guts on my very own blog, Barack Obama's teleprompter's blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack and I don't go anywhere without each other. We even complete each other's sentences. Well, more mine than his, but let's not split hairs.

MOOS: These are exact quotes from my new blog. Oh, sure, some mock our relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama cannot even go to breakfast without using a teleprompter.

MOOS: They question whether the boss can spell "potato" without a prompter. They even suggest I quit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I shall not resign. Hell, I haven't even been officially confirmed.

MOOS: The human behind my blog has not come forward. But he seems to have it in for my boss. The blog started after a mix-up with the Irish prime minister's speech at the White House. Too bad it wasn't on camera.

The wrong speech got inserted in the prompter. The Irish prime minister started reading President Obama's speech. He quickly realizes, amid much laughter, that something's amiss. Then, when President Obama comes back to the podium, he jokingly says, as if he's reading the wrong speech: "First, I'd like to say thank you to President Obama."

LIMBAUGH: He ended up thanking himself.

MOOS: That's Rush Limbaugh rushing in.

LIMBAUGH: This is hilarious.

MOOS: They called it a gaffe, a blunder. But the pool reporter who was there said it was a joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So teleprompter, do you have a name?

MOOS: I call myself TOTUS -- teleprompter of the United States.

When the boss messes up -- for instance, when he made that remark about the Special Olympics the other day, I have to blog to clear my name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I see the bus coming right at me. So let's be clear, this was his ad-lib.

MOOS: But sometimes he blames me.

OBAMA: Orion Energy Systems. I expect this is O'Ryan as opposed to Orion. But the way it was written up --

MOOS: Critics mock the boss with pictures of him dancing with me, taking me to the beach, even showing me telling him what to say to the wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now whisper "I love you" with quiet, reassuring strength.

MOOS: I'm lonely when you're not there, boss, to read my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel so dirty. Where's the Windex?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

[end video clip]

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos. There's my teleprompter right there. You think it's easy reading a teleprompter? Not always that easy. Watch me.

President Obama holding a prime-time news conference tomorrow night. Our coverage here on CNN will begin at 7:45 p.m. Eastern.

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