Published 12:00 am Monday, February 4, 2008

Commentary by John Howell, Publisher

I wonder what State of the Union addresses were like before TV?

While viewers watched President Bush deliver his final State of the Union message Tuesday night, they saw television art as well. Much like the sporting events we see today, the cameras have zooming and magnification capabilities far beyond those of just two decades ago.

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The editing and production people have equipment that allows them to rapidly select from among many views the picture we see on our screens, moving quickly from one to the next. Obviously, if one camera focused solely on the president during his entire address, even the most dedicated fan would have trouble resisting channel surf.

But with many so cameras, the director or whoever can jump from a view of the president to a view of his Congressional audience to a view of a single member of Congress, all so quickly that we stay interested.

So on Tuesday night, with the president and everybody else in the building knowing that what they were doing at any given second could be on small screens and not-so-small screens everywhere, we got quite a performance.

Every time the president paused at the appropriate place for applause, the people on the red side of the aisle jumped up, clapping and hurrahing as though the man had just spoken the most profound words since “For score and seven …”

It was even funnier when the camera zoomed in on the blue side of the aisle. Of course, the president’s clever speechwriters had managed to word every statement — even those they knew Democrats would find distasteful — with such patriotic bunting that it would skew the idea enough to confuse his opponents.

So when the president got to one of those pauses that would bring the Republicans to their feet, the camera would catch the Democrats’ eyes nervously darting from side to side to see how they were suppose to react to what had just been said.

Oh say can you see that the state of the union has become high comedy?