From C-SPAN to Ted Nugent, the State of the Union’s Media Rituals
Every year amid the silent marble figures in Statuary Hall, the stately rituals of the State of the Union address dissolve
into a gabfest.
Scores of men and women with microphones are standing in a circus- like arena, breathlessly awaiting soundbites from multiple members of Congress.
For the sober C-SPAN broadcast, it’s a big night out on the town. As other cable networks have grown over the years, it’s a perfect way to fill–um, spend–the time after the hourlong speech. This is where the media become beholden and grateful to lawmakers for their talent for repetition — to say the same lines or message over and over with gusto, roughly the same thing to MSNBC as they said to CNN just a few minutes ago.
Republican or Democrat, this is the thread that ties them together. A key figure in the House Democratic leadership, Chris Van Hollen, showed no signs of weariness (nor lunging for his water bottle, ) as he smilingly gave one interview after another.
Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican known for his defiant theatrics, however, was being upstaged by a guest he brought along. “I’m not a rock star,” he said. “He’s the rock star,” he added, pointing to an animated man with a ponytail, dressed as a cowboy, his face beaming in the camera lights.
“That’s Ted Nugent,” Stockman said with a flourish, and sure enough it was.
Nugent was holding court near the statues of Robert LaFollette, the great Progressive senator from Wisconsin, and William Jennings Bryan, the populist orator from Nebraska, both famed in the early 20th century. They both seemed so yesterday in the presence of the rock star’s profanity-laced swagger. Speechless, as a matter of fact, in this great hall of history. It’s safe to say Nugent took the post-SOTU ritual to another level.
Nugent, an avid critic of President Obama, reached across the party aisle to hug Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, telling her how much he loves Motown music. (Yup, she is African-American.) Then it was time to take a turn over to MSNBC’s corner of the marble patch. There the aging rock star came face to face with Luke Russert,
27, ready to roll.
Was it appropriate to call a member of Congress such a name (“shit-for-brains”) here in this institution, Russert asked, avoiding the exact words used by Nugent. Nugent had earlier insulted Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of gun violence.
The emotional highlight of the entire evening was the president’s call for votes on tougher gun laws in the shadow of the Newtown tragedy. But Nugent wasn’t having any of that. He aimed some rich language at Russert, who didn’t bat an eye.
After it was over — not live, fortunately — possibly the wildest interview ever was headed for the archives. I asked Russert if he got
nervous in the face of that verbal fire. ”No,” he said. “Not for Ted Nugent.”
And that, my friends, is the state of the State of the Union’s media ritual.
Jamie Stiehm is a syndicated columnist for Creators Syndicate.
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