Thanks to a leak, many had already read the speech before the President could even deliver it; afterward, the most relevant commentary came from Keith Olbermann’s new network, Twitter
A reliable producer of big ratings for cable news networks for decades, the President's annual State of the Union address on Tuesday seemed to mark a turning point in which media delivery of the event was decisively channeled through the Internet, not television.
First, of course, as President Barack Obama noted to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while walking to the podium, he didn't really need to deliver his speech, since everyone had already read it online via a leaked report two hours earlier.
Later, there was plenty of reaction commentary on cable news, but the more relevant stuff came from Keith Olbermann's new network, Twitter.
"If POTUS starts with 'Since you all have a copy of this already, let's all read it together,' I'll give him $50," wrote Olbermann, who live-tweeted the event to his 206,000 followers.
Olbermann concluded: "Tonight's Final Score: Obama 22, Ryan 1, Bachmann -11,746. The Larry Sanders Show is next on IFC. No flipping. Seacrest Out."
Twitter, it seemed, was the place to be for instant analysis — even for those who still have TV jobs.
“Maybe you believe him, maybe not,” CNN's John King wrote on his Twitter feed, “but POTUS political goal here is to sell self as reasonable, center in the spending debate.”
Meanwhile, reactions from the media were all over the ideological map — which differed starkly from Obama's speech at the Tucson Memorial two weeks ago.
And of course, cable-news pundits still had plenty to say.
“The president didn’t really offer much,” Brit Hume fumed on Fox News. “It suggests to me that [Obama] doesn’t intend to do very much.”
Charles Krauthammer called Obama's speech “flat and uninspired” and “remarkably against the trend of what the electorate said this November.”
That left Juan Williams, the ex-NPR commentator, to defend Obama on Fox.
“I liked the speech and I think the reason I liked it was because it spoke to our American moment,” Williams said. “I thought that this is not a moment for fake oratory that seeks to soar because America needs to dig in and get some things done.”
CNN, anchored by Wolf Blitzer and featuring its very new, very British primetime host Piers Morgan, was the only news outlet to carry both scheduled partisan responses — Republican Rep. Paul Ryan followed by Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party rebuttal — live.
“Hearing the Tea Party’s perspective on the State of the Union is something we believe viewers, no matter their persuasion, will be interested in watching,” CNN political director Sam Feist said in the network’s announcement. (Fox News and MSNBC both made it a point to not carry Bachmann’s response live on-air.)
CNN was also the first cable news network to show a photo of Gabrielle Giffords’ husband holding her hand as she watched Obama’s speech from her hospital bed.
MSNBC showcased its new, Olbermann-free primetime lineup — Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell — to assess Obama’s performance and the Republican rebuttal.
“I thought the speech was great,” Matthews said. “It had a very Jack Kennedy quality.”
“This president has changed,” Schultz added. “He is above the tree line, he is above the fray.”
But again, the best commentary — or at least, the most entertaining — was tweeted.
"[John] Boehner would only cry if this night was called 'The State of John Boehner,'" Lizz Winstead, co-creator of "The Daily Show" and frequent guest on MSNBC's "Ed Show," wrote.
"I hope whoever is standing over my left shoulder is enjoying Bachmann's speech," Seth Meyers, "Saturday Night Live" head writer, wrote on his feed. "Because that's who I think she's looking at."
"Why isn't Rep. Bachmann LOOKING AT THE DAMNED CAMERA?" Olbermann tweeted. "Seriously, somebody at the Tea Party needs to run on the stage, grab her, and POINT TO WHERE THE CAMERA IS … Yoo-hoo! CONGRESSWOMAN! We're the ones in the MIDDLE."
Twitter was also a good place to find other politicians responding to the speeches.
"Frustrated by Bachmann's take on facts," Newark Mayor Cory Booker noted on his Twitter feed. "Republican address accepted bi-partisan responsibility [for] our problems. Bachmann just blames Obama."
And despite the call for an end to violent rhetoric in the wake of the Tucson shooting, it appeared at least one major network, ABC News, didn’t exactly heed the call, publishing a story before the State of the Union by George Stephanopoulos on its homepage with the title "President Obama's Double-Barreled State of the Union Message" — adjacent to a large image of Giffords.
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