Gerber: President's visit brings cheers, jeers

Gerber: President's visit brings cheers, jeers

August 4th, 2013 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Depending on which side of the political fence you stand, the phrases "Obama Nation" and "Obamination" are probably familiar to you.

And, again depending on where you stand, one of those phrases may describe your emotions about President Barack Obama's visit to Chattanooga on Tuesday.

I will not be offended whichever phrase fits your feelings.

The president's visit and surrounding hubbub prompted plenty of Times Free Press readers to share their thoughts on the president and how the newspaper covered his trip to town.

The top half of our front-page was dominated by a photo of Obama hugging Amazon employee Lydia Flanders, while the rest of A1, except for some teases to other stories at the bottom, was dedicated to Obama in Chattanooga. It seemed like every reader had an opinion about it.

The ups and downs:

• Some readers didn't like the fact that an advertising sticker for a local jewelry store was plunked down on top of the president's face on A1 - although at least one said it gave him an idea for his wife's birthday.

Some said it was disrespectful to cover the president's face with an ad and believed we'd done it on purpose. We didn't. The newsroom and advertising department are entirely separate here, and I promise that page designer Nick Fowler, who put together Wednesday's front page, didn't position the photo to make a landing spot for the sticker.

The stickers are added after the page is printed. And if we wanted to cover up Obama's face, we certainly wouldn't have run such a large photo of him.

• At least a dozen readers said they loved the six-column photo of Obama on the front page and will keep it as a souvenir. At least a dozen more hated it and said it gave Obama too much publicity in a state where he is not popular.

It's worth remembering that while Tennessee is a red state, voters inside the city of Chattanooga sometimes lean blue.

• Some quibbled with the headline "City embraces Obama," which ran on the front page the day after the president's visit.

While the headline was partly a play on the photo of Obama embracing Flanders, it also was intended to convey the rah-rah frenzy of cheers and cellphone photos inside the Amazon distribution center. One woman asked Obama to sign her T-shirt. He did. (Right shoulder, black sharpie ink, reports columnist David Cook who witnessed the moment).

Obama did get a rock-star welcome at Amazon, but it's a fair point that it was an invited crowd and protesters were kept out, so enthusiasm is what you'd expect in such a handpicked crowd.

• Some local residents felt insulted by the fact that the president didn't acknowledge Amazon's neighbor, the German-owned Volkswagen plant, while mentioning the Big Three American car makers in his speech. VW has created lot of jobs in this city - about 2,700 - and the locally made Passat is certainly a source of pride here.

• Many readers commented that Obama's visit to Chattanooga was a proud moment for the city. The president gave a shout-out to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. And I couldn't help noticing that, in their reports, the national cable and radio news networks said the president was visiting "Chattanooga" rather than saying he was visiting, "Chattanooga, Tennessee."

Maybe I'm biased, but it seems like a big deal for Chattanooga to get a standalone mention in the national media, like Chattanooga is famous enough that the media figures everyone already knows what state we're in.

"It speaks well of Chattanooga's rising profile that Obama made a visit there," wrote a reader from Atlanta.

Speaking of Atlanta, Jim Galloway, who writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Political Insider" feature, wrote Tuesday that Obama had "arrived safely in the Atlanta suburb of Chattanooga."

I guess perhaps he was commenting on Atlanta's ever-marching sprawl, but quite a few Chattanoogans didn't think the comment was funny. One caller suggested I buy Galloway a map and use a neon marker to highlight Tennessee. And tell him to keep his hands off our water while you're at it, the caller barked.

Now that the president's visit is in the past, I guess we can get back to bickering about other, more-familiar stuff, like the water in the Tennessee River.

Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com.