Dr. Gerald Shuster presented his response to ‘The Obama Years: The Power of Words’

Kittanning councilman offers response to documentary

Dr. Gerald Shuster reacts to ‘The Obama Years: The Power of Words’

By Julie Victain

“The Obama Years: The Power of Words” is a documentary that will be nationally released at 8 p.m. today on the Smithsonian Channel.

On Thursday, Dr. Gerald Shuster, a Kittanning Borough councilman and University of Pittsburgh professor who teaches political communication, presidential rhetoric, public speaking and speech composition, spoke in review of the documentary during a symposium at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

As the exclusive, post-screening panelist at the event, Shuster, who regularly provides political analysis for regional, national, and international media both electronic and printed, in addition to television programs, lent his learned perspective to those in attendance following a viewing of the 48-minute documentary.

“There were close to 300 people filling the entire fifth floor of the John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh,” Shuster said. “It was a mixed audience. Everyone from elected political figures to (retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback) Charlie Batch and his wife were in attendance. It definitely made this a first-class event.”

The documentary focuses on Obama’s writing and thinking by delving into his speeches during both his eight-year term as America’s commander-in-chief and in the preceding years of his political ascent.

“Barack Obama launched into our national consciousness at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and ever since, he’s delivered messages of patriotism, unity and hope through the power of words,” explains the overview of the film on the Smithsonian Channel’s website -- smithsonianchannel.com.

“But of all the speeches he’s given, six in particular may define his legacy as, in historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s words, “one of the best writers and orators in the presidency.”

Interviews with eminent historians and key figures in his writing process give rare insights into these iconic speeches, as well as the Obama presidency and the man himself.

Some of the speeches the documentary touches upon occur during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner; a statement on a school shooting in Newtown, Conn.; the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches; and the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also gave remarks about the documentary during the event’s reception portion.

Shuster explained that before he saw the documentary he expected, “just another movie that they would show in school.”

“I actually got to see a pre-screening of the documentary about two weeks ago,” he said. “It is a very unique documentary, and was an efficient and effective way to end Black History Month not just for the Sen. John Heinz History Center, but for the city of Pittsburgh.”

Other cities had similar events with a pre-screening of the documentary, speakers and panelists.

“We were lucky to have this event before the national release. It was definitely an honor,” Shuster said.

In addition to his participation in numerous forms of political communication analysis, Shuster’s background as a university-level instructor set him apart in the center’s search for an exclusive panelist in regard to the documentary.

Opening remarks before the documentary came from: Andrew Masich, the center’s president and chief executive officer; Sam Black, director of the center’s African American program; Toni Murphy, vice president, project management office and customer experience at Comcast; Charles Poe, senior vice president of production at the Smithsonian Channel, who serves as the event’s moderator.

For more information on the film visit the Smithsonian Channel website at smithsonianchannel.com.

Those interested in seeing the documentary can review local television guides for channel information.

Julie Victain is a staff reporter for the Leader Times. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 ext. 1315 or jvictain@leadertimes.com.