The Rutherford Conundrum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 15 2012 7:13 PM

The Rutherford Conundrum

President Obama spoke today at Prince George's Community College in Maryland. He gave an energy address that sounded, to everyone paying attention, like a campaign speech. And the White House got two kinds of stories out of it.

Story One: President gives energy/campaign speech. Glenn Thrush and Jennifer Epstein went with that for an article titled "Obama Campaign 2012: Kick-Off Day." It has 12 shares on Facebook, and has been tweeted 30 times. David Nakamura's piece about the speech's energy zingers has 27 shares.

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Story Two: President made weird, wrong joke about Rutherford B. Hayes. This was the popular BuzzFeed take on the speech, which collected meme-friendly responses to Obama's use of some presidential apocrypha: It is not true, really, that Hayes doubted that anyone would want to use a telephone. Dan Amira responded to that line by calling the Hayes Presidential Museum, debunking the speech. His story is closing in on 900 Facebook shares.

What does the ordinary American hear about the speech? Mostly that the president zinged Republicans. What sticks in the collective consciousness a week from now? The Rutherford Hayes joke. You wonder why speechwriters even bother to file full copy, instead of producing different flavors of chum for different media.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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