What you are about to witness is either awkward or simply military protocol. Either way it's media bias on display.
There were a few things that jumped out to me immediately when I watched this video originally aside from the obvious fact that no one applauded until instructed to.
My first thought was, "perhaps this is simply how it's done." After all, they were playing 'Hail to the Chief,' which, for all I know, informs them to stand at attention. But then I noticed that people seemed to be moving about, and a few were even holding up camera phones and filming the event. It made me wonder if the audience was even comprised entirely of military, which would of course raise further questions as to why there were no unprompted cheers.
I have to imagine the silence was deafening. Perhaps no one wanted to be the first one to applaud a man who seems intent on cutting the funding that many in attendance probably fashion their lives around. Perhaps they saw the people on stage not applauding and assumed that they weren't supposed to either. Who knows? Maybe this same guy got on stage moments ahead of the cameras rolling and instructed the audience to stay quiet until he informed them otherwise.
I'll leave those questions for people in the military or those in attendance at this speech.
Why this stuck with me since I first saw it was that I'd heard nothing of this moment in the national media even though this speech had taken place a month ago.
I guess I just assumed that a President walking in to a room without applause would be newsworthy, especially when someone finally has to step in and instruct the audience to applaud.
Why would I think this? I'm just following the precedent set by the media during George W. Bush's presidency.
When President Bush gave a speech to the military, June 28th of 2005, there was a moment where the crowd applauded as a result of a White House staffer applauding first. You know the situation. You're in a crowd, no one applauds, one guy claps, and then the rest follow suit. An unremarkable moment you'd think, but the media made sure that everyone knew who the applaud-starter had been, just in case there were any doubts about how and why anyone would press their hands together for Bush.
Terry Moran of ABC told Charlie Gibson, "I must tell you that applause was initiated by a member of the White House advance team."
On NBC, Brian Williams was already fascinated by the inadequate applause when Kelly O'Donnell made sure he knew why there was any applause at all:
BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): [NBC News White House correspondent] Kelly [O'Donnell], some folks at home no doubt were curious about the lack of applause breaks. By pre-agreement between the White House and Fort Bragg, there was no entry applause as the soldiers were at attention. We were 23 minutes into it before the first break for applause. Were the crowd addressed or given instructions in any way before the president walked out?
O'DONNELL: I checked with some of those in uniform, and they were told to follow military protocol and to be polite. It was my observation that that one applause break was actually triggered by members of the president's advance team. They were just a few feet from me. They started to applaud-- applause is contagious, and it then swept through the room. There was applause when the president left the room after the speech was over but people in uniform here told me that they had planned to be polite and to follow protocol. So, that's the explanation behind that, Brian.
Even "Campaign Carl" Cameron got in on the action:
BRIT HUME (anchor): It was an interesting phenomenon, this was a room full of U.S. military men and women and they had been urged not to engage in the usual cheering response that a commander in chief can expect. But at one point there was a round of applause. Our chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron is down there and can give us a better sense about this whole issue about the military and the applause and what kind of atmosphere was supposed to prevail in the room and what happened there. Carl?
CAMERON: Well, one of the things we were told today before the president's speech by the military brass here is that the soldiers and airmen were all given very strict instruction to avoid their hoo-hahs. And there's an awful lot of pent-up enthusiasm here. And before the president actually gave his remarks, we had some of the commanding officers come out and sort of exercise and warm up the crowd and let them do their hoo-hahs before the president got here. They were told to keep it subdued that this was not supposed to be a rah-rah reception to the president's remarks. It wasn't a rally. But there was that one moment when the applause, in fact, did break out. And what happened in fact was a couple of Bush staffers in the back of the auditorium here with the press began to applaud. And here you have these members of the Army Airborne, some as described by their own commanders, some of the more aggressive U.S. forces, ready to let loose with their applause.
You may be asking where I'm getting these transcripts from that show just how interested the press was in this particular applause-gate. It turns out that our good friends at Media Matters for America archived them for us so they could decry other stations for not picking up the meme.
Oddly enough, they were strangely silent when President Obama not only didn't receive applause (possibly from a mixed audience of military and civilians) but took it one step further than George Bush by having an applause that didn't spur from following the applause of others, but actually only materialized when, from the stage, someone requested of the audience to do so.
I anxiously await the naysayers to discuss military protocol instead of what this is really about: The press felt no need to make one peep about something that, only a handful of years earlier, three major national media outlets and a self-proclaimed media "watchdog" felt compelled to inform America about.
I suppose there's always the possibility that they, like me, didn't realize that it happened, which wouldn't be altogether too surprising considering the WhiteHouse YouTube channel conveniently edited out the beginning of the speech.
Cross-Posted at Big Journalism.