- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

President Obama had a better than average audience for the State of the Union address Wednesday night, drawing 48 million viewers nationwide, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.

In recent years, former presidents have attracted varying audiences: George W. Bush garnered 62 million viewers in 2003. Bill Clinton’s audiences ranged from a low of 27 million in 1997 to a high of 41 million in 1993.

Fox dominated the presidential airwaves.

Among the cable networks, Fox News led the audiences - drawing 5.7 million to witness the 70-minute speech.

CNN pulled in 3.3 million and MSNBC drew 2.4 million, though the network received considerable but not always positive attention after host Chris Matthews made a series of racially tinged remarks about the president.

“I was trying to think about who he was tonight. And uh, it’s interesting. He is post-racial, by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour,” Mr. Matthews told his audience.

Fox also drew the most viewers among broadcast networks: 9.7 million people tuned in, perhaps because of programming preceding the speech. It was also “American Idol” night on the network: over 24 million people had tuned in to Fox to watch amateur entertainers seek their fortune prior to Mr. Obama’s address.

Elsewhere, ABC drew 7.6 million viewers, NBC 7.2 million and CBS 6.2 million.

Mr. Obama drew a huge variety of reviews from the press - called “Principal Obama” by the Washington Post, a “cheerleader” by the Kansas City Star and “Unbowed” by the Toronto Star.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey conducted in the immediate aftermath found that 48 percent of respondents gave the president a thumbs up, under a third rated the speech “somewhat positive” while 21 percent gave a negative response.

Mr. Obama did better during a televised address before Congress last February, when close to seven-out-of-10 viewers gave enthusiastic reviews.

“Wednesday night’s ‘State of the Union’ audience is more Democratic than the nation as a whole, but speech-watchers were less Democratic this year than they were last year,” said Keating Holland, CNN polling director.

“That may be one reason why the number who gave his speech a ‘very positive’ rating is lower this year. But part of the reason also may be that speech-watchers didn’t necessarily hear a new agenda and aren’t confident that the president can improve health care or lower the deficit.”

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