Obama's same-sex marriage announcement, provoked, defined, and dissected by TV

President Obama’s Wednesday declaration that “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” was uttered on television (to ABC News) and was provoked at least in part by Vice President’s Joe Biden’s TV remarks last Sunday, on NBC’s Meet The Press, that initially raised the subject to a Presidential level.

The New York Times reports today that, according to several sources, Biden’s words accelerated the President’s announcement, which he’d planned to make… also on television: On The View next Monday. (We’ll see what the View gals have to say about that, later this morning.)

When you combine this with the fact that Biden invoked Will & Grace as “doing as much as anything else” to make gay relationships acceptable to mass America, one is struck once again with how extensive a role television plays in not merely broadcasting news events, but also forcing them, shaping them, and interpreting them.

The President’s remarks to ABC’s Robin Roberts were broadcast Wednesday afternoon, not the optimum media time to break news, but guaranteeing that the footage of the interview would be shown on all the afternoon cable and prime-time evening newscasts, as well as late-night shows such as The Daily Show and in David Letterman and Jay Leno’s monologues.

David Letterman oddly opted for jokes that could have been uttered by Bob Hope a few decades ago: “President Obama also announced a new cabinet position: Decorator of the Interior.” Jay Leno was a tad more progressive: “You know what this means, ladies: Now all the good ones without short term loans and good credit will be married and gay,” adding, “This is the first time Joe Biden said something the President didn’t have to apologize for.”

Some TV reactions could not be predicted. On Fox News, anchor Shepard Smith played Obama’s remarks and then said blithely, “The President of the United States, now in the 21st century.” He went on to ask his colleague Bret Baier whether the GOP would continue to campaign against same-sex marriage and thus, said Smith, remain “sitting very firmly, without much question, on the wrong side of history”:

Smith’s poker face and verbal concision must have caused some viewers to wonder if they’d heard him correctly, and it was a rare instance of Smith inserting his own interpretation into the news. He usually leads into The O’Reilly Factor by saying that now we’d hear opinion, in Fox News’ prime-time hours. When TV compels people to do things they might not usually do, it makes for fascinating viewing.

Twitter: @kentucker

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