#JointAddress: How the Media Covered Trump’s Speech to Congress

Last night, President Trump gave his first address to Congress and, arguably, his most important speech to the people since inauguration day. In his one-hour-and-one-minute Joint Address to Congress, the State of the Union-esque ceremony of political pomp and circumstance outlined Trump’s policy priorities that we can expect to be tackled throughout his four years.

Trump stuck strictly to the script, rarely veering from the 14-page transcript that played on his teleprompter. When he did veer, it was only to add flourishes – like the word “very” and other verbal additives. He did not mention anything negative about the media, a target of his since he got into office. His tone differed drastically from what Americans saw throughout the campaign trail and in his off-the-cuff moments as president.

The media was not lost on this notion – in fact, it has been their primary focus in their analysis since the speech ended.

In CNN’s “Good Morning” daily newsletter, the subject line reads: “Donald Trump 2.0?” The “COVER/LINE” newsletter follows suit, with their subject line reading, “Trump’s ‘softer,’ ‘disciplined,’ ‘moderate,’ and more ‘presidential’ tone.” Time’s Zeke Miller and Alex Altman get straight to the point, with: “Donald Trump Finally Sounded Like a President” – proclaiming that “braggadocio and the bluster” were absent from the speech for the most part.

On the television news front, approving comments were abound. The Hill pulled praise from both conservative and liberal talking heads in a handy rundown: Fox News’ Chris Wallace called it “the best speech I’ve ever heard Donald Trump give.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said the speech would be “well-received.”

Interpretation from international media varied depending on the nation, but generally, all corners were quite chatty about the address.

Despite the obvious change of tune, outlets were quick to dive into the content of the speech – pointing out that a more palatable language doesn’t change populist rhetoric.

CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote that “his language was more lofty and unifying than normal,” but in the issues that were touched upon during the speech – from trade to counter-terrorism – he said the “result was a populist, nationalistic prescription” toward the nation’s own advancement.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa dubbed the speech an attempt to “repackage his hard-line campaign promises with a moderate sheen.” Time’s Miller and Altman called the speech “still unmistakably Trumpian,” that “echoed the grim themes that have marked his major speeches.”

The mention of populist rhetoric was not enough for some. Jezebel’s Prachi Gupta called out the media for calling his speech “presidential” when in the weeks ramping up to the Joint Address, he was anything but “presidential” in her view.

It’s willfully naive to think that, at this point, Trump is about to become the great unifier. It’s that kind of “let’s give him a chance!” rhetoric that got him into the White House in the first place,” Gupta wrote. “If his address to Congress was a historic moment, it will be historic because it was the moment Trump’s bigotry became “presidential” and the American people stopped resisting.”

Beyond tone and broad rhetoric strokes, outlets also noticed Trump’s easing up on issues to allow for political wiggle room and his responses on some hot-button social issues.

Daniel Bush of PBS NewsHour noticed that Trump sang a bit of praise to NATO (who he before had called “obsolete”) and he hit the American infrastructure chord – a topic that wins points on both sides of the aisle. Bush assessed that “the speech seemed to signal Trump is developing a sharper antenna for the political dynamic in Washington.”

On social issues, Rucker and Costa of the Post point out that Trump started out “noting the wave of anti-Semitic vandalism and threats targeting Jewish cemeteries, community centers and schools.” The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas and Amber Jamieson also note that Trump denounced the Kansas shooting that is being investigated as a hate crime by the FBI “after a week of silence.”

On the flip side, Yuhas and Jamieson also describe what Trump didn’t mention: “Trump did not mention the hundreds of thousands of people who have protested around the world since he took office, including during the Women’s March and after his executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.”

Other outlets were keen to address the Joint Address in their own, unique angles tailored to their readers. Marie Claire devoted an entire article to the Democratic boos that were audible throughout his speech (a grand total of six). Slate created two different Twitter lists to assemble its “Instant Spin Room,” where readers can poke through the tweets of right and left-wing “pundits and politicos” as curated by the outlet. Mashable gathered all of the Twitter pictures that featured Democratic congresswomen wearing white at the speech, in honor of suffragettes.

Last night was a big night for Washington media, and D.C. journalists had a field day. With three States of the Union remaining, there’s still more than enough buzz to go around for the remainder of the Trump Administration.

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