There is no television viewing these days without the sidebar chatter of social media and, at least in the case of the State of the Union address, VH1-style pop-up videos.
The White House has been dribbling out components of the president's plan for more than a week, introducing policy ideas on every imaginable platform and, shortly before the speech itself, dropping the entire thing in a post on Medium.
Republicans promised that they'd fight fire with fire, offering a "real-time response" to the president's proposals online. It was a doomed effort, for very obvious reasons. But it was also a failure because it wasn't even done well.
Case in point: Here's a shot from Obama's discussion of the path he took to the presidency.
That's what the president's team chose to juxtapose him with: Some cute kid from Hawaii, riding around on a tricycle. The White House had the luxury of knowing what the president was going to say and when he was going to say it; they prepared nearly a hundred polished graphics ahead of time to run in the split-screen and, of course, to share on Twitter.
That's almost certainly why they threw it out on Medium beforehand; the goal was less the stated desire to "reach a wide online audience and give people a range of ways to consume the speech," as the post's introduction sniffed, and more to ensure that those little embedded graphics traveled along with the text.
The tone of the graphics alternated between informative, data-like, and emotional. Informative:
In some cases, data-emotional ("Wait, that means my kid could get sick!"):
The White House did cheat. Notice the vertical axes on this graph, which, if you're not paying close attention, suggests that the richest Americans earn more income than the bottom 90 percent. But the axes aren't equal. That's, at best, deceptive.
The Republicans didn't have the advantage of seeing Obama's speech in advance, of course. They did, though, have a chance to see what Obama was likely to say, since he's been talking about it for several days now. So they prepared graphics for their "real-time response." And they weren't very good.
The factual slides were accurate, if not punchy.
On Obamacare, the GOP brought back a classic -- again, without much visual energy.
This slide, though, seemed telling.
What is the "30-hour rule"? Partisans understand; it seems unlikely that many others do. Obama's slides were clearly targeted for a broad audience. This slide isn't.
The GOP did a little better on Twitter, where they were actually responsive in near-real-time.
— RNC (@GOP) January 21, 2015
Some of it didn't work.
We tend to get into the weeds when we look at politics, which this analysis clearly does. But think of this not as political commentary, but media commentary. President Obama has been very direct about working all of the media avenues provided to him; it's one of the things that, for example, set his presidential campaigns apart from his Republican opponents. It's a very current form of information-sharing, done well. The Republicans' effort was not.
Not that Obama is reading this. He's doing interviews with YouTube celebrities, because that's what you do these days.