President Barack Obama made a measured appeal to protesters for calm in the aftermath of a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson Monday night.
"First and foremost we are a nation built on the rule of law," Obama said in a statement from the White House, urging protesters and law enforcement to react peacefully.
But the incredible scenes from on the ground in Ferguson were playing alongside the video of his statement on televisions across the country. Scenes of smoke spreading across Ferguson's streets, riot police brandishing assault weapons and protesters smashing out the windows of empty police cars were juxtaposed with the image of a fatigued Obama speaking at the White House:
The president's measured response came across as lackluster and uninspired as he appealed to high-minded notions of nonviolence and the rule of law while police fired tear gas and protesters set fire to police cars in the split-screen.
Asked by reporters if he would be going to Ferguson, the president said, "Let's take a look and see how things are going."
The response on social media was immediate and unforgiving:
"We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said. The result was a disorienting clash — the president of the United States asking for peace as chaos spewed across Ferguson.
The short speech illustrated one of the persistent critiques of Obama's leadership style — namely, his tendency to come across as detached from a situation in which the public demands an emotional response. In some cases, this level-headedness serves Obama and the country well. In others, it comes across as tone-deaf. Obama's response to the situation in Ferguson was the latter.