About That Extraordinary Photo of an Obama-edited Speech

Many people have sent me notes about the official White House photo of Barack Obama working over the draft of a speech. The speech in question appears to have been his address about health-care reform to a Joint Session of Congress last September, which was the beginning of his campaign to recover from the long, hot "Summer of the Death Panels." Click on the shot below for a slightly larger version; go to the White House Flickr site here for a stupendously large original shot. (I heard about it through the following chain of leads: this linking to this linking to this.)

SpeechDraftPhoto.png


Having spent my time in the watching-speeches-get-edited business, here are the three things I thought as soon as I saw this picture:

     1) Has nobody ever heard of DOUBLE SPACE ?!?!?

     2) The volume of Obama's editing is unusual but not unheard of. The quality of his editing is exceptional for a public figure. Think of just one sentence in the shot above. The original says "This has always been our history." Obama changes it to, "This has always been the history of our progress." A different, more interesting, and more original-sounding thought. As people in my business say: You know, if things had turned out differently, he could've been a writer! (Yes, yes, I know that he was..)

    3) TelePrompter people? Ready to cry Uncle?
___
Housekeeping note: having put up a week's worth, for me, of material in one day, I am planning to go dark for the next four or five days, as "real" writing finally impends. See you later.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In