Wednesday whiplash: The TV turns from Obama, to Fed, to royal wedding . . .

April 27, 2011

There are days when what you see unfold before you — on TV, yes, but also on the insta-media that has been human-centipeded to it — is so bizarre and even flabbergasting that it makes your head hurt. Wednesday was one of those days.

As calmly as could be expected (which is to say, frantically and with little warning), the White House unveiled President Obama’s actual Hawaiian birth certificate for all to upload and download, tweet and retweet, and examine with the forensic care learned from our endless exposure to detective shows.

But before the president could get to his own lectern to speak about it, he was upstaged by celebrity real-estate billionaire and TV personality Donald Trump, who is thinking about not not-running for president.

Then TV’s attention went back to the White House, where after making his own brief remarks and all but begging the American people to end what he called a “silliness,” the president then left Washington for Chicago to appear on “Oprah.” He really did.

Later, in the afternoon, after some primers on who is and isn’t on certain invitation lists for Friday’s royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, made history by giving the Fed’s first-ever televised news conference, which could only be interesting to certain Washingtonians. CNN quickly discovered that it could only sit still for it for a few minutes before switching to a brush fire at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Which lasted ever so briefly, because the network had to return to London, for news of a dress rehearsal at Westminster Abbey. Also, TV talkers wanted to zoom in and really stare at Obama’s birth certificate, high-def style.

It was like watching a crazy uncle — some still call him Sam — have another of his little episodes, what the nation’s overworked home health-care aides would call “an active day.” The country’s up outta the recliner and straight through the back screen door and over the fence. Again.

Before the president’s statement on all this at the White House, in early mid-morning, Trump descended from the sky in his helicopter to speak — gaseously, noxiously — to a scrum of understandably irritated reporters in New Hampshire.

“Today I’m very proud of myself, because I’ve accomplished what nobody else has been able to accomplish. I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate,” Trump bragged.

“I want to look at it, but I hope it’s true,” he went on. “I am really proud. I am really honored. Now we can talk about oil. We can talk about gasoline prices. We can talk about China ripping off this country. We can talk about OPEC doing numbers on us like nobody has ever done before. We can get on to issues, and hopefully when I sit down with interviews, people don’t start talking about ‘birth certificate, birth certificate’ like they’ve been doing.”

The reporters shouted questions back — honest questions, contradictory questions. Trump snarled at them and openly promoted the remaining episodes of his NBC competition show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Minutes later, back to the White House, Obama’s turn. Bemused at first, a quick snark about what it takes to get on TV anymore, and then this: “We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”

The president didn’t take questions. If only he had.

You in the back — yes, you. Your question is?

May we in good conscience keep watching “Celebrity Apprentice” during all this, in order to see NeNe vanquish Meat Loaf?

I’ll take that question, as your TV critic: No. No you may not. Here is why.

You may not keep shaving off pieces of your brain for things like “Celebrity Apprentice” when you cannot even stay tuned for the Fed chairman’s first-ever press conference.

That began in the mid-afternoon. All the wonks in the house go “woot.” Bernanke came out and took a seat in a room that was entirely draped and carpeted in the most dour sort of blues and grays. It looked like it was happening in one of those countries with not much money for decor. (Like ours?)

Bernanke spoke: “In my opening remarks, I’d like to briefly first review today’s policy decision. I’ll then turn next to the Federal Open Market Committee’s quarterly economic projections also being released today. And I’ll place today’s policy decision in the context of the committee’s projections and the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate to foster maximum employment and price stability . . . ”

Pretty soon, CNN split, with not one bit of remorse. CNBC eventually switched to audio only, while it grazed elsewhere. Good ol’ C-SPAN stuck with it the whole way, where it was finally made clear that the only people interested in a Ben Bernanke news conference — the only people able to follow a Ben Bernanke news conference — were the reporters who cover the Fed.

Had America kept watching, the collective brainpower would have been too overwhelming — perhaps lethal. You want to know what it’s like behind the Fed’s blue curtain? Here is what it is like. It’s beyond you and you and you and you and me. And you.

A breezy hour of Bernanke, with his neatly trimmed Norelco Santa beard and wavering voice, goes a very long way. Time to open C-SPAN’s phone lines to the voices of the (broke, jobless, insanely worried) people, to see what they thought of this historic news conference; their calls are answered and organized cleanly and fairly by their party preference, as is the C-SPAN way.

David a “blue-dog Democrat” from Eugene, Ore., prefaced his remarks with, “I hope you’ll give me a moment to get this all out,” and we do barely, before C-SPAN host Bill Scanlan does that thing where, like the undefeated champion of the next switch that he is, he brutally moves on to the next caller.

“Half of it is lies and they know they’re lies!” cries caller Chris, an independent voter. “You can see it in [Bernanke’s] eyes! He’s afraid the whole economy is going to collapse . . . ”

And then to Jane, a Republican on the next line: “My stomach is in a knot. . . . Our country is falling apart. What does the president do — he flies to Chicago to be on ‘Oprah Winf — ’ ”

Oprah! I almost forgot! It’s a taping, to be aired next Monday, but already the Web is alive with tweeted snippets of what was said, woven into the news crawl, on top of analysis of Trump’s remarks, but let’s go now to a larger close-up of the birth certificate, before returning to Westminster Abbey . . .

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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