Just as the heart of the presidential inaugural events got underway Monday, at least one of the massive television monitors — upon which most of the crowd depended for their views of the ceremony — failed.
Murmured boos and groans sounded throughout the massive crowd gathered on the Washington Monument grounds as the TV grew suddenly garbled and pixelated during the opening remarks delivered by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). The screen went black, blinked back to life, then went dark again - flashing only intermittent images and bursts of sound at an increasingly disgruntled crowd.
“Boooo!” shouted several people standing along the fenced perimeter of the monument.
“Ugh - are we going to have to go watch this in Starbucks or something?” one woman groaned. The once-boisterous crowd gathered at the Washington Monument had fallen into a glum quiet, punctuated only by groans and boos, as the TV monitor continued to broadcast a garbled and disjointed sound and image as Vice President Biden took his oath of office.
There were cheers nonetheless when Biden’s swearing in was completed — followed by more groans and laughter as James Taylor’s rendition of “America the Beautiful” was hopelessly distorted.
The malfunctions were not fixed in time for Obama’s oath — but, finally, Schumer’s introduction of Obama came through loud and clear.
The crowd screamed and cheered, and chants of “Obama! Obama!” sounded from across the grounds. But video and audio continued to cut out, and there was up to a 5-second delay between audio and video. The president’s speech was difficult to understand.
Even before Obama’s speech was over, hundreds of spectators on the grounds of the Washington monument were already giving up and turning their backs to the failing jumbotron. Only snippets of Obama’s words came through, with both the audio and video feeds badly distorted. The few audible lines prompted a mix of cheers and frustrated sighs from those who were determined to stay to the end.
Tajuan Parker and Jermaine Isaac, seniors at Long Island University, looked peeved as they stood by the Washington Monument and watched the broken Jumbotron. They had taken a bus from Brooklyn at 5 a.m. and were tired and shivering from the cold. They couldn’t hear much of what Obama was saying, and they really wanted to see some celebrities.
“I don’t see any Beyonce or Jay-Z,” Parker said to his friends. “They’re friends with Barack, right?”
Marion Mudd, 83, had come downtown from Bethesda with her son, Lincoln Mudd, 55, and grandson, Ahrdesheer Mudd, 14. They were none too pleased with the technological failure.
“It was awful. Just such a shame, and so disappointing,” said Marion.
She said she felt especially bad for those who had traveled long distances to be a part of the historical moment.
Lincoln Mudd pointed out that the timing of the malfunction at the beginning of Schumer’s remarks was especially unfortunate.
“The fact that they couldn’t fix it, that’s humiliating from a competence point of view,” Lincoln said. “Why couldn’t they just get the audio working? Everyone would have been happy just to hear it - we didn’t need to see it.”
The Presidential Inaugural Committee could not be reached for an explanation.
Linda Likar, a District resident who was among the crowd subjected to the sputtering screen, said she didn’t understand how everything could work so perfectly four years ago - when the crowds were even greater - and then fall short this time.
Despite the malfunctions, Likar said the symbolism of being present for the occasion was still worthwhile.
“It was still fabulous to be here with everyone,” she said.
Caitlin Gibson, Alex Rudansky and Ian Shapira contributed to this story.