- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

The State of the Union speech Tuesday night proved to be must-see TV: 62 million watched, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen.

President Bush's speech last year attracted 52 million viewers.

Called sweeping, grave, ambitious, compassionate and powerful by pundits, Mr. Bush's 59-minute message resonated with viewers. Post-speech polls reveal that Americans are rallying behind their president.

An ABC News survey found that 64 percent of the respondents said they watched the speech and 75 percent said they approved of most of what Mr. Bush said up from 19 percent in a poll taken before the speech.

Sixty percent said Mr. Bush made a good case for war with Iraq; only 30 percent felt that way previously.

A CBS News survey found that 81 percent said Mr. Bush "had the same priorities for the country" as they did. The figure stood at 54 percent prior to the speech.

Sixty-six percent said his proposed tax cuts would help the economy, and 77 percent approved military action in Iraq, up 10 points from before the speech.

A CNN/USA Today survey found that 50 percent of those who watched the speech gauged their reactions as "very positive," while 34 percent said they felt "somewhat positive."

Seventy-one percent said they felt the country was headed in the right direction after the speech, up from 52 percent previously.

Some 20,000 people had voted on one Web site's online poll (Vote.com) by late yesterday; 88 percent said they felt the speech served to rally America.

Though some estimates placed Fox News and NBC as the winners of the ratings race for cable and broadcast respectively, complete numbers will not be available until later today.

Meanwhile, the Media Research Center took ABC News to task for its coverage after the speech. An ABC reporter in Baghdad emphasized that U.N. inspectors in Iraq had found "nothing" in their search for weapons, and that Saddam Hussein had gone on Iraqi television to announce that America wanted to "enslave" his country.

"CBS and NBC coverage also featured reaction pieces from their reporters in Iraq, but … refrained from so generously relaying enemy propaganda," the media watchdog observed.

While commentators clashed over partisan implications of the speech, even station breaks became politically charged this week.

Actress Susan Sarandon and former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck appeared in an anti-war TV spot sponsored by True Majority, an interest group started by Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen.

The organization is part of a coalition called Win Without War, which describes itself as "the new, mainstream coalition of patriotic Americans opposed to an unprovoked military action in Iraq."

Mr. Cohen's group spent $200,000 to place the anti-war spot on broadcast and cable networks in Washington and New York. It was rejected by the networks on a national level because it constituted "political advocacy," according to one advertising source yesterday.

The source said a new ad, featuring comedian Janeane Garofalo and former United Methodist Church Bishop Melvin Talbert, will air this weekend.

Miss Sarandon, in the meantime, is vexed by public criticism of her political views.

"I'm tired of being labeled anti-American because I ask questions," she told reporters yesterday at the London premiere of her film "The Banger Sisters."

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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