Yesterday I described the State of the Union a “national embarrassment,” one hardly befitting a republic based on the principle of coequal branches of government. The obsequious reception given by Congress provides “a grotesque parody of monarchical excess,” of which even Congress tired by the end of President Obama’s speech last night. Callum Borchers at the Washington Post finds another reason to detest the SOTU spectacle — the media’s coverage of it. Last night CNN decided to cover the pre-SOTU arrivals like an entertainment-industry awards show, which … is probably not far off in terms of substance, actually.
Borchers wasn’t entertained, however:
It’s awards show season, and, perhaps inspired by the ever-popular red-carpet interview, CNN decided it would be a good idea to position chief political correspondent Dana Bash outside the House chamber to snag interviews with lawmakers, justices and Cabinet members as they showed up for Tuesday’s State of the Union address. It was, in a word, awkward.
Attendees mostly blew her off, never breaking stride on their way in. At one point, Bash observed that the approaching Supreme Court justices had not yet donned their robes — how unusual! — and asked her camera operator to pan over to show them. The sight was not exactly Hollywood glamorous. When the justices drew near, Bash joked that she could hardly recognize them in normal clothes. If they were amused, it didn’t show; they kept walking. …
This is no knock on Bash, who as we’ve noted is a very reputable Capitol Hill journalist. But she had an impossible mission. While movie stars love to stop and gab on the red carpet — largely because they know the questions will be total softballs and because they are, well, celebrities — politicians have no interest in impromptu interviews on live television. Why risk being surprised by a question you don’t want to answer?
More importantly, entertainers show up to awards shows and red-carpet entrées to entertain. Politicians, at least in theory, show up to govern. As silly as the red-carpet coverage is for awards shows, at least fans care about what celebrities wear. Who cares what politicians wear?
Bash eventually did get John Kerry to engage, but not before he made it clear that he didn’t want to get roped into it on live television, leaving Bash to plead:
— Andrew J. Schneider (@ndrewschneider) January 13, 2016
Not every coverage experiment will work out, and it may be a bit churlish to fault CNN for giving this a try. However, it does serve as a reminder that no one takes the SOTU seriously, and that the full-court media press serves mainly as entertainment fluff for an annual moment of political fluff. At least awards shows give us an actual song and dance occasionally.
The embarrassing spectacle of the SOTU isn’t CNN’s fault. It’s not Barack Obama’s fault, for that matter. The fault lies with Congress, and so does the solution.