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Why Obama Doesn't Give Speeches From the Oval Office

Dwight D. Eisenhower gives a special broadcast from the Oval Office on  the Little Rock crisis on Sept. 24, 1957
Dwight D. Eisenhower gives a special broadcast from the Oval Office on the Little Rock crisis on Sept. 24, 1957Photograph by U.S. National Archives

Barack Obama sure does like that walk down the red carpet. To get to the East Room in the White House, where the president gave his speech last night, you can duck left after walking through the North entrance, or you can step out of the Diplomatic Reception Room and walk down the Cross Hall, framed by columns, gilt chairs, and that carpet (here’s a map). A president sitting at his desk in the Oval Office is watching for the light on the camera to flash red, indicating that you are watching. He has been waiting for you. A president who walks down the Cross Hall chooses his entrance and makes you watch it. You are waiting on him.

Before the Diplomatic Reception Room had its present purpose, the room was where FDR gave his radio addresses. He had done something similar as governor of New York, but before his second such speech from the White House, a journalist at the Columbia Broadcasting System’s D.C. bureau introduced it as a “fireside chat.” Roosevelt did not dispute the name. Even for a president, the medium is the message. An “address” would have just been words from a wooden cabinet in the parlor.