THE BLOG
08/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Unwords Begone II

In last month's blog about Barack Obama's fourth press conference, you read about a contentious exchange between the president and Chuck Todd of NBC News, sparring about the demonstrations in Iran. In yesterday's blog about Obama's fifth press conference, you read how Obama diminished his use of "unwords" in his handling of the reporters' questions -- until Todd tangled with him again. Perhaps it was the aftertaste of that first encounter, perhaps it was because Todd asked a follow-up question, perhaps it was because the question challenged what Obama had said in his opening statement, but Obama's unwords reappeared during his answer.

Todd's testy question was:

Back to the politics of it, you mentioned two Republicans in your opening statement.

Todd was referencing this part of Obama's opening statement:

I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to go for the kill. Another Republican senator, that defeating
health-care reform is about breaking me. So let me be clear. This isn't about me.

So Todd not only challenged Obama's original statement, he also went on to stir the pot -- as any journalist worth his salt would; after all, conflict is drama. Todd said:

You have 60 Democratic seats, a healthy majority in the House. If you don't get this, isn't this a fight inside the Democratic Party? And that Republicans really aren't playing--you can't really blame the Republicans for this one.

Obama took the challenge and promptly rebutted Todd's claim:

Well, ah, first of all, uh, you haven't seen me out there blaming the Republicans. I've been, ah, a little frustrated by some of the misinformation that's been coming out of the Republicans. Uh, but that has to do with, as you pointed out, politics.

In his rebuttal, Obama accelerated his cadence. You'll recall from yesterday's post that speed overrides pauses and without pauses, the mind, in search of thinking time, inserts unwords. As Obama's answer continued, his rapid pace continued and so did the "ums" and "ahs," as well as several iterations of the meaningless phrase, "you know."

Uh, you know, if you've got somebody out there saying not this, you know, let's get the best bill possible but instead says, ah, you know, let's try to beat this, so we can gain political advantage, well, you know, that's not, I think, what the American people expect.

The "ums" and "ahs" continued throughout the remainder of his answer to Todd. But when he finished and called on ABC News's Jake Tapper -- who asked a less challenging question -- the unwords diminished. Tapper's question was followed by questions from six other reporters, and Obama's unwords stayed few and far between.

To maintain his trademark cool demeanor and to abolish his unwords, the president would do well to insert more pauses in his answers -- and to avoid Chuck Todd.