State of the Union 2012: An event that the media has surrendered to social media

NBC’s Brian Williams and his cohorts can narrate the President Obama’s accession to a joint session of Congress with great skill. They can recite every big shot he embraces on his ascent to the teleprompters. And after a spell of stop-and-go speechmaking, they can get back to their thing: Jake Tapper of ABC can make his point about the speech being “very political”; Scott Pelley of CBS can make his point about the speech standing as an “opening statement for the 2012 presidential race”; Chuck Todd of NBC can talk about Obama’s base embracing a populist message; and every commentator within shouting distance of a camera can cheerlead a draft movement for Mitch Daniels, who recited a successful response to Obama.

But we don’t need these folks anymore. We have Twitter, and if there’s one event that lends itself to the strengths of this medium, it’s the State of the Union Address. The considerations:

1) The State of the Union Address is interrupted only by applause. Network and cable pundits couldn’t sneak their analysis in even if they wanted to; Twitter chimes in without drowning out your audio.

2) The speech consists of hundreds or thousands of little moments — moments that can’t possibly be processed and analyzed ex-post-facto; Twitter catches every glance in the venue.

3) The event consists of an authority figure insisting on his version of the truth. Twitter’s official rebuttal comes long before Daniels’s official rebuttal, only with more wit.

To use a cliche of the industry, it’s a game changer. Before Twitter, watching the State of the Union address for me amounted to an act of civic-minded drudgery on a par with standing in line to vote on a miserable November morning, watching Discovery channel reruns during jury duty at the D.C. Superior Court, or recycling. You’re talking about a visually uncompelling broadcast that recites the same points you heard in the last campaign and the last press release. What’s the upside?

With Twitter, it’s a 65-minute comedy routine with some expert commentary thrown in just for kicks.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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