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Barack Obama's teleprompter dies; trusted speech aid was barely 2

July 14, 2009 | 12:22 am
Democrat President Barack Obama and his beloved Teleprompter

Breaking news, literally: After helping both candidate and chief executive deliver weighty words countless times on the campaign trail, on the road to, from and within the White House, the beloved teleprompter of Democratic President Barack Obama died Monday night.

The fragile, overused speech aid was little more than 2 years old. No immediate cause of death and no autopsy were announced.

The passing of the celebrated speech-giving helper happened suddenly and unexpectedly. The president was looking right at the teleprompter, giving remarks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House. He was rigorously defending his economic stimulus package, which has been rigorously criticized recently for being like many political speeches, not very stimulating.

Virtually everywhere he's gone in recent years, the teleprompter has been faithfully at Obama's side, and slightly to the front.

Through a transparent glass plate, it shows the text of even his briefest remarks, enabling the president to appear to make eye contact with eager, attentive audience members without looking down to ...

... read from a lectern text or from cue cards like late-night TV comedians. So ubiquitous was the Obama teleprompter that it launched many jokes and even some Twitter accounts that alleged to speak for the politician's essential gadget.

For countless speeches, the trusty teleprompter, controlled from offstage, slowly scrolled the ex-senator's magic words, which, along with $750 million, enabled the smooth-tongued fellow to get elected as leader of the free world and enhanced his public reputation as a really good talker.

Virtually all the important words and statements of first candidate and then president Obama began their flight as lettered images on that teleprompter screen. Including the inaugural address that so many millions watched around the world. Remember the historic line: "I've made my position abundantly clear"? That too began life on the teleprompter.

Obama and the teleprompter were a very effective team, better together than their predecessors. Obama became so attached to the faithful teleprompter that he took it virtually everywhere. He once even used the gawky machine for campaign remarks on the dirt floor of a rodeo arena. In the White House, the teleprompter could slide modestly into the floor after use, so in wide TV shots no one need know the 44th president used it.

But all that came to a crashing and dramatic end Monday night. As the president launched into his 11 minutes of stimulating remarks, according to eyewitnesses, the old teleprompter simply expired, came loose, fell silently as if in movie slow motion before the stunned eyes of watchers and smashed into many pieces on the hard floor.

"Oh, goodness!" Obama exclaimed. "Sorry about that, guys." The heartless audience of mayors, urban policy wonks and administration crowd-packers laughed out loud at the sudden death.

As if it was a mere machine, the 47-year-old president displayed no sign of concern or compassion whatsoever for his departed friend. He simply continued his speech with the surviving teleprompter on the other side.

The teleprompter's remains were removed later by janitorial personnel for private burial. An official period of mourning was not announced. Not even a moment of silence. That's the Chicago way.

The deceased Teleprompter is survived by numerous siblings and offspring, all also named Teleprompter.

— Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

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