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How Stands the Union
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How Stands the Union

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Nothing in politics just happens any more. The nature of the 24 hour news cycle, 24/7 news, and the internet have created two related phenomenon. First, there is nothing in politics that just happens any longer. Except for terrorist events, natural disasters, and national security secrets, there are no activities which are not in front of the public at all times; before they happen. Second, those employed in the news business and whose job it is to report, interpret, and analyze the news are constantly looking for news—or even to make news—so there is virtually no chance of a surprise event to occur. (This explains in part why there are fewer and fewer press conferences; nothing should happen that you is not controlled or predicted.)

While all good editors and reporters were always on the look-out for a good story, the obsessive need today to do it fast far exceeds what was formerly the case. The need to pay the bills, the heightened competition, and the desire to play “Gotcha” have changed the news business dramatically. In fact, the gross inaccuracies which have developed as news organizations are watching the clock more than ever to get their scoops out first, has created an entire new industry. Instead of reporters and editors double sourcing and triple sourcing their stories, there are now fact checking organizations which do nothing but corroborate what reporters write, newscasters assert, or politicians say. (Much of this the public consumers never even bothers to read.)

This reality is evident as one contemplates President Obama’s final State of the Union Address to be delivered before a joint session of Congress tonight. There is an enormous hype from all sides concerning the President fulfilling his constitutional requirement to report annually to the Congress on the “state of the union”. The issue is about the leaks, the pre-speech spin, the importance, the uniqueness, the opposition rebuttal, and the gallery guests, to say nothing of the expected substance. Media coverage of this message has drawn the attention of journalists and analysts of all sorts now for several days.

It is virtually impossible that there will be any surprises in the speech. All that actually remains will be to measure what are Obama’s priorities, balances, his emphases, the number of words per subject, the reaction of the audience, etc. (There was a time that Israel watchers, for example, would watch and count the number of words a president uttered about the Middle East, was Israel mentioned by name, was a remark of support or identification with Israel included, and did it compare to how Israel’s neighbors were treated.)

In all likelihood it will be lovely pomp and circumstance with the substance likely to be quite boring, because it has been hashed and re-hashed to death already. All the folks who will watch will only be waiting for very unlikely surprise; plus, what color tie the new House Speaker is wearing and whether he has shaved his beard.

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