State of the Union speech and Christopher Dorner: The attention of TV news was divided

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Image Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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Coverage of a California cabin thought to hold former LA police officer Christopher Dorner ran right up to the cable new networks’ coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. The dramatic image of a fire, and with it the possibility of a conclusion to Dorner’s tragic, death-dealing fugitive trek, was kept on-screen even when channels such as CNN and Fox News tried to introduce some pre-game analysis of the President’s address to the nation.

Obama proposed a “fix it first program” to repair, to use his examples, bridges, ports, pipelines, and schools. He got a near-standing ovation when he talked up immigration reform, as close as he can get to a bipartisan issue, especially given how poorly the Republicans did among Latino voters. (Though behind the President, John Boehner — who more and more is beginning to look like Jack Elam in Cannonball Run — remained glued to his chair.)

The President projected both energy and a certain looseness. You can tell he’s feelin’ good about what he has to offer when he starts droppin’ his “g”s. Speaking of bank reform, for example, he wondered, “Why would that be a partisan issue? Helpin’ folks to refinance?”

The State of the Union is very much a televisual event. It is staged for the cameras. Thus First Lady Michelle Obama was surrounded by people who served as symbols of recent events, so TV could cut to them when the President raised various issues. The First Lady’s guests included Nathaniel and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendelton, whose daughter was a victim of gun violence in Chicago. Another was Menchu de Luna Sanchez, a New York nurse who helped at-risk babies when her hospital’s power was knocked out by Hurricane Sandy.

The President got some of his biggest reactions when he spoke about “common sense reform” to help curb gun violence. By far the most dramatic moment occurred when Obama said that proposals should not be held up by political haggling. Reeling off victim after victim of gun violence, from the murdered children in Newtown, Conn., to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, he repeated for each, with increasing vehemence, “They deserve a vote!” The rhetorical flourish, and the reaction to it, was electric.

“The American people expect us to put the nation’s interests before party,” Obama said. He was talking to a very divided house, but perhaps speaking a common hope throughout the country.

As soon as the President finished, the news channels immediately reported that a body had been found in that fiery cabin, and that Christopher Dorner was, presumably, dead.

Sen. Marco Rubio then gave the Republican response after the President’s speech. Rubio said of Obama, “His solution is for everything is for Washington to tax more borrow more and spend more.” Rubio’s repeated phrase wasn’t “they deserve a vote” but “more government” – as in, more government, any more participation of government in our lives, is intrinsically bad. Rubio’s speech was also geared for TV: His selection is widely viewed as a try-out for a Republican Presidential run, so he softened his attacks on Democrats with stories about his parents and his working-class roots.

Rubio suffered from an attack dry-mouth – at one point lurching for an off-camera bottle of water to swig a few gulps. This probably only made him more sympathetic, and he delivered most of his arguments with a conversational calm and an earnest plea around the edges of his voice.

Twitter: @kentucker

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