The article of New York Times (April 29) written by a former White House speechwriter, David Litt under the headline,” What it’s like to write jokes for President Obama” wraps up with the following paragraph:

“But I do think that presidential comedy has played a role in this chapter in American history. The bully pulpit has splintered. It’s become harder than ever to get people’s attention. And the White House has recognized what class clowns have known all along. Being funny helps.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/30/opinion/what-its-like-to-write-jokes-for-president-obama.html?action

I’m not clear with the phrase, “The bully pulpit has splintered.” Though I know the meanings of individual word of “bully,” “pulpit” and “splinter,” I’m unable to associate them with the concept of the meaningful set of a phrase.

Why is the President's speach stage a "bully" pulpit? Can you translate it into a plain and simpler phrase?

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    A bully pulpit is the perquisite of a leader, who by virtue of the importance of his office has the attention and respect of a wide audience. What he says will be heard and absorbed. It is splintered because there are so many platforms vying for our attention these days. – Steven Littman Apr 30 '16 at 1:56
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    Look up the idiom "bully pulpit". Has been in and out of vogue since Teddy Roosevelt. There should be several articles on the topic floating around the interweb. – Hot Licks Apr 30 '16 at 2:35
  • @HotLicks Wait, did this really originate in the Bull Moose Party??? – tchrist Apr 30 '16 at 3:51
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    @tchrist: You can find Roosevelt using "bully pulpit" in 1909 in Google books, and the Bull Moose didn't come until after the attempted assassination of Roosevelt in 1912. Reference. – Peter Shor Apr 30 '16 at 4:01

Bully pulpit refers to the position of power of a politician from which they exert their functions and authority. Because of technology communication nowadays is split over many different channels and the article suggests that this makes it harder for a politician to attract people's attention.

Bully pulpit:

  • a position of authority or public visibility, especially a political office, from which one may express one's views. (Dictionary.com)


  • This term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the White House as a "bully pulpit", by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda.

  • Roosevelt used the word bully as an adjective meaning "superb" or "wonderful", a more common usage in his time than it is today. Another expression which survives from this era is "bully for you", synonymous with "good for you". (Wikipedia)

From World Wide Words:

  • Half a dozen of us were with the President [Theodore Roosevelt] in his library. He was sitting at his desk reading to us his forthcoming Message. He had just finished reading a paragraph of a distinctly ethical character when he suddenly stopped, swung round in his swivel chair and said “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”
    • Lyman Abbott, in The Outlook, 27 Feb. 1909. Dr Abbott, a notable Protestant theologian and author, was editor-in-chief of the magazine. The anecdote was thought worth repeating in the New York Times on 6 March. Roosevelt was fond of bully as an adjective; when he returned to the US following his successful campaign in Cuba in 1898, he said “I’ve had a bully time and a bully fight!”
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