It was standing room only as America's top politicians took center stage during last night's production. She wore a grey Rachel Roy number, which complemented his now peppered hair tones. The audience interrupted with applause no fewer than 81 times. Since 1790, America's top politicians have gathered, with exceptions, to listen to the State of the Union address. Last night we heard President Obama discuss issues like American innovation and illegal immigration while he set goals for doubling U.S. exports by the year 2014 and reducing annual domestic spending for the next five years. But then, we already knew all this.
As I sat watching this year's address on television, simultaneously following the Twitter conversation and clicking between official and non-official blogs, I couldn't help the feeling that I'd "been there, heard that." That's because over the past week (or more) leading up to last night's address we were skillfully provided with select details of the address. These intentional leaks served to both prepare us for it and frame the way in which the address was talked about, particularly by the media. Among the news items that surfaced in the lead up to the address was how President Obama would venture to the political center through several non-controversial proposals regarding education, research and innovation.
The White House (WH) team appears to have been successful in managing the media's expectations before last night's address. For example, on Jan. 21, CNBC reported that during the address
"the president, a Democrat, will make an even greater attempt to highlight areas of common ground with the opposition party on areas that are priorities for both sides such as boosting the economy and reducing the deficit."
The WH strategy for framing the speech coupled with the news from yesterday's daily Ramussen presidential tracking poll indicating that 52% of voters said they at least somewhat approved of the president's performance (the highest level since October 2009) could pay off come end-of-week polling. Early indication from the media also suggests that the WH team succeeded. This morning the Washington Post wrote "Tuesday night's State of the Union address marked a return to civility for an event that had in recent years been overwhelmed by partisan rancor."
In 2010, viewership for the State of the Union address averaged 48 million viewers when combining the ratings for 11 networks including FOX News, MSNBC and CNN. Meanwhile media coverage of that address was met with the expected pundit-infused media treatment that we have come to know over the past decade on U.S. television.
The question that comes to mind is why anyone, not involved in politics and media, would watch last night's address if the content was made available prior to the 25th? A recent Pew Generations report suggests that the Internet has surpassed newspapers and radio in popularity, ranking just behind TV and also suggested that more people are getting their news online. Given the lack of immediacy of the address, since the WH had given details away along with the changing news consumption trends of the U.S. public, was there the inherent excitement and draw of a live television event to entice viewers in the age of American Idol? Or, as I suspect, were viewers nullified by the strategic maneuverings of the WH and subsequent media coverage?
Did you watch the State of the Union address? Why or why not?
Follow Pedro L. Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/plrodriguez