I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or discouraged by this. On the one hand, it suggests at least 31 million people care enough about the jobs crisis and the need for pro-growth policies to tune into a platitudinous presidential address in the hopes, at least, of hearing something new. On the other hand, it suggests folks bought the White House hype, that this speech would be of grand significance. Either way, the numbers are interesting:

Eleven networks carried the president’s Thursday evening jobs speech, which began shortly after 7 p.m. EDT.

The NFL season opener between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, which began after Obama’s speech ended, drew some 27 million television viewers. …

The Republican presidential debate, which was on Wednesday when Obama had originally planned to speak, drew 5.4 million viewers for cable network MSNBC.

Obama’s most watched speech was his late night announcement about the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. That unscheduled appearance at 11:30 p.m. on May 1, was watched by more than 56 million people, according to Nielsen.

That last fact seems both obvious and important. It makes perfect sense that Obama’s announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death would draw a larger audience than a speech to announce predictable proposals. OBL’s death was true news and indisputably one of the most important developments in the war on terror since it began. The president rarely has news of such import to relate — but why all the pressure for the president to speak when he doesn’t have any news? And why so many viewers? In the 24/7 news cycle, in the never-ending quest to find some new tidbit of information to report, substance-less words necessarily become stories in themselves — not enough happens to fill the cycle otherwise. But, in the end, I find it a refreshing touchstone to remember that what happens is often more important than what is said. Or to put it in the words we’ve all heard from the time we’re little, “Actions speak louder than words.”