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When teleprompters go rogue

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As the story goes, President Lyndon Baines Johnson was giving a speech, and his teleprompter seemed to be working fine. LBJ droned on about some policy or another in his Texas twang, staring into the teleprompter screen, and finished without mangling more words than normal.

Then LBJ walked up to the teleprompter operator and fired him on the spot. The hulking machine – designed to scroll text in front of a speaker’s face, so he or she can look directly at an audience – had malfunctioned, and the operator hadn’t noticed.

“Johnson had a blank screen. He’d just given the speech from memory,” says communications consultant Laurie Brown.

Teleprompters – it’s so tempting for politicians to rely on them to help lighten the load of constant public speaking. But that can be dangerous, as figures from LBJ to Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have discovered.

Sure, go ahead and criticize. “Use a teleprompter? Faker! Inauthentic fraud!” You try it. They are harder to use than they look.

Decoder mentions this because Mr. Obama uses them so often he’s been accused of needing them to talk to his family at dinner.

But look – Obama is just good at using them. Tele­prompt­ers have been in politics since ex-President Herbert Hoover used one to give the keynote at the 1952 GOP convention.

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