He’s had to address the nation during four mass shootings and one major natural disaster, but President Obama has never had to deal with a suspected act of terrorism. But when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past Monday, Obama had to go from President to Commander in Chief.
The attacks in Boston took on another level of depth when the media announced that the President would be addressing the nation. Clearly his speech had been prepared, but it was without the gloss the campaigning orator is accustomed to – rightly so.
President Obama appeared before a shocked nation wearing an expression of stern concern. His voice was forthright, his delivery serious but not emotional. In the brief address, he made sure to say that he and Speaker John Boehner, usually his arch rival, were communicating and that on this issue, there were no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans. With no information to share he stated unequivocally that justice would be served. His delivery reassured a nation that in shock and proved the key crisis communications principle: Keep communicating, calmly, even if there is no news to be shared.
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston bombing.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of crisis, what you say is nearly secondary to how you say it. Study carefully Obama’s face and tone of voice in this address and you will see a President in command. Even while conceding there was no information, Obama’s demeanor said that was only a matter of time. He asserted union of parties, gave a patriotic nod to Boston’s resilience, and wisely took no questions. If the antidote to chaos is control, the nation may have felt that the crisis was under control after this speech.