Inside Story: Who Really Needs to Hear the Speech? - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Inside Story: Who Really Needs to Hear the Speech?

From Phil Williams:

If you followed politics, you know both Republicans and Democrats sometimes seem stuck to their talking points. It doesn't matter what the other side says.

Still, we expect our politicians to be thoughtful, to look out for us, and not just shoot from the hip. OK, that's what we would like to happen, right?

So after President Obama delivered his first speech to a joint session, members of Congress had a chance to reflect on what they had heard.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, for example.

"What we heard tonight," she said in a statement, "was a sometimes sober, sometimes hopeful assessment of where we are as a country."

Since she's a Republican and he's a Democrat, you'd expect her to disagree with some of what she heard.

"Over and over again the President cited government as the solution to our many challenges. This is a basic philosophical disagreement that I have with him."

But could it be that Congresswoman Blackburn wasn't really reacting to the president's speech at all?

You see, her statement -- headlined "Blackburn Reacts to President's Joint Address" -- was actually emailed to the media at 3:36 p.m. Central Time.

That's almost five hours before the president spoke.

Of course, the statement was "embargoed until after the president's joint address."

That means that journalists weren't supposed to tell you what Blackburn thought of the speech she hadn't heard... until after you had heard it... even though she had already made up her mind before she heard it.

Rep. Blackburn's press secretary says that their talking points were developed in response to Democratic points that had already been circulating on Capitol Hill.

He says, in Washington, that's how the game is played.


UPDATE:  In response to questions raised by viewers, let me address a common misconception -- that members of Congress receive a transcript of the president's speech well in advance.

I wondered that myself and checked the facts:

  • Congresswoman Blackburn's office confirms that they did NOT have an advance copy.  As the story points out, they developed their talking points based on Democratic talking points that were circulating, not an advance copy. 
  • I also checked with Democratic members of Congress.  Like Blackburn, they got the full transcript about 30 MINUTES before the speech, not five hours. (That was well after she released her statement.) Those are the copies that you see members of Congress reading during the president's speech. 
  • As someone pointed out, the White House released a two-paragraph excerpt at 5:08 p.m. Even that was after Congresswoman Blackburn released her statement on what she had "heard."

Finally, as to suggestions that I'm a "partisan," take a look at my recent reporting on Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, as well as former Sens. Jerry Cooper and John Ford -- to name a few. 

An "Inside Story" from December 2007 also calls out Democrats and Republicans for being stuck to their talking points. 

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