- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Anxiety about a possible war with Iraq has made the State of the Union address must-see TV tonight. Broadcasters are ready. Networks and cable news channels will offer a combined 24 hours of coverage and some 76 on-camera correspondents, give or take a pundit or two.
"This is not a State of the Union speech. This is a state of the world speech," said Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. "When war is in the air, a presidential address is a major news event."
That was not always the case. Only eight weeks after the September 11 attacks, NBC and CBS opted to run "Friends" and "Survivor" rather than Mr. Bush's 30-minute speech to rally the nation against terrorism. Some disgusted viewers called for a boycott.
The 9 p.m. address or SOTU, in political patois has generated buzz among journalists for weeks, even as the White House tried to downplay its prominence in press and diplomatic arenas.
Such buzz raises expectations and magnifies the news, Mr. Lichter said, making this more than the traditional "agenda-setting" event.
"Some used to portray Bush as a lightweight, implying that [Vice President Richard B.] Cheney controlled everything from the wings," Mr. Lichter said. "That's gone. Bush is the serious heavyweight now. What he says matters."
Analysts of every persuasion will spring into action after the speech. Pundit rosters include historians, lawmakers, retired military, and academe and political consultants who also will hold forth on the Democratic response from Washington Gov. Gary Locke at 10 p.m.
Viewers in Washington and New York also will be treated to TV spots from True Majority, a pacifist organization founded by Ben & Jerry's ice cream co-founder Ben Cohen.
The group has bought time during the coverage for an ad featuring actress Susan Sarandon and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Edward Peck. The pair will "challenge the Bush administration's rush to war" and represent "the new, mainstream coalition of patriotic Americans opposed to an unprovoked military action in Iraq," a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, CNN alone will feature 25 correspondents over the course of this evening, including four in overseas locations. MSNBC offers 19 correspondents and Fox, 10. CBS, ABC and NBC will feature 22 analysts among them. CBS also will feature a live viewer poll and NBC will offer its broadcast in Spanish.
Not to be outdone, C-SPAN will rebroadcast the speech four times in the wee hours and include viewer call-ins and a live link with a North Carolina University political science class for good measure.
"They'll be offering their own unique feedback," said C-SPAN spokeswoman Robin Scullin.

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