SOTU Superlatives

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

From the extensive coverage in the media of the January 23 State of the Union address and aftermath, Media Matters for America culled the most noteworthy statements and moments in each of several categories. Included in those are examples of the media's attributing significance to otherwise mundane or incidental events, with these purportedly relevant observations having the effect of advancing factually dubious, pre-existing storylines about Democrats -- including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) harboring animosity toward Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for seeking the Democratic presidential nomination -- or making thinly-veiled personal attacks against Democrats.

Least profound observation

CNN's senior national correspondent John Roberts imparting significance to the seating arrangements in the House of Representatives:

ROBERTS: There was a couple of other interesting things to take note of as well, Wolf [Blitzer, host], the fact that [former House Speaker] Dennis Hastert [R-IL], who always sat up there right behind the president, right beside the vice president, was third row from the back tonight.

And, also, over on the Democratic side, Barack Obama had a better seat than Hillary Clinton. He was in row four. She was in row five. Wolf.

Runner-up: MSNBC's Chris Matthews, asking former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw about Vice President Dick Cheney's smile:

MATTHEWS: Tom, let me ask you about the energy. You're right, I think it's amazing for him to take such a strong position as a Republican, which is generally a pro-business position, to come out to modernize fuel efficiency standards for cars. And yet, when he was doing that, when he was going through how tough he's going to get on fuel efficiency and his acknowledgement of the global warming issue, maybe it's a coincidence, maybe I shouldn't be reading this into it, but the vice president seemed to be smiling broadly during that. Did you catch that?

BROKAW: Uh, no, I would -- I'd be the last person who would try to read Dick Cheney's mind.

Worst analysis based on the least profound observation

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank on the January 24 broadcast of National Public Radio's Morning Edition:

RENÉE MONTAGNE (co-host): And, of course, Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], as speaker [of the House], may be one of the few Democrats not running for president, who --

MILBANK: That's true. By my count, there were 10 in the chamber there. And, in fact, Hillary Clinton was situated immediately behind Barack Obama, making it easier for her to actually place the knife into his back, if that's what she was trying to do.

[Sen.] John Kerry [D-MA] a few rows up, [Sens.] Chris Dodd [D-CT] and Joe Biden [D-DE] a few seats down. Then, on the other side, you had [Sens.] Chuck Hagel [R-NE], and John McCain [R-AZ], and Sam Brownback [R-KS]. You know, people watching their every fidget. You know, the only time you could definitely count on them all being very enthusiastic in their applause was when Bush mentioned ethanol, which, of course, plays well in the Iowa caucuses.

Most misleading question

NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory during an interview with Obama on the January 24 broadcast of NBC's Today:

GREGORY: You -- you've seen, in just the first week of your campaign, some of the ugly side of politics: a report surfacing this week that you attended a radical Islamic school in Indonesia. Reporting has since emerged that that school was no such thing. I wonder how you think your -- your political enemies will try to capitalize on your background overall, including, quite frankly, the fact that your middle name is Hussein.

OBAMA: Well, you know, when I was in Illinois running for the U.S. Senate -- Barack Obama's not your typical name, and everybody questioned how voters would respond, and we ended up winning 70 percent of the vote. So I'm not unaccustomed to this.

Contrary to Gregory's suggestion about Obama's "political enemies," it is often the media themselves who raise the issue of the senator's background and name. Gregory's colleague at MSNBC, Chris Matthews, was apparently the first to mention Obama's middle name in a political context in November 2006. Others, such as CNN senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield, have used Obama's middle name to attack the senator and question whether he could be elected president. More recently, Fox News' John Gibson and others have touted a story on InsightMag.com that smears both Obama and Clinton, alleging that Obama attended a madrassa in Indonesia as a child and sourcing the report -- without further substantiation -- to "researchers connected to" Clinton.

Most flagrant recycling of White House spin

Fox News Washington bureau managing editor Brit Hume, referring to the "gold-plated policies" Bush had described days earlier in laying out his new health care proposal:

MORTON M. KONDRACKE (Roll Call executive editor): Every Democratic official that I've heard quoted -- or every member of Congress -- has been very negative about this idea. [Rep.] Pete Stark [D-CA], who's the chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee that does health care, said that it's DOA -- dead on arrival.

HUME: Yeah. He said that he won't even hold hearings on it.

KONDRACKE: Right.

HUME: And Harry Reid [D-NV], the Senate majority leader, has been critical of it. And practically across the board, it's been dismissed as a -- as something that helps people who have insurance, punishes some people who have insurance --

HUME: Who have gold-plated policies.

KONDRACKE: Exactly. And, well, that includes union members, who are a major constituency of the Democrats.

Most gratuitous attack on a female Democrat

In addition to Milbank, whose knife-in-the-back smear earned him recognition in a different category, on-screen text on the January 24 edition of Fox News' The Big Story With John Gibson, purporting to analyze Clinton's alleged "State of the Union scowl," asking: "What was she trying to convey?"

Big Story

Runner-up: MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle's 9:26 p.m. entry on MSNBC.com's "Hardblogger":

Math has never been my strong suit. And I have difficulty balancing my check book. But you don't have to be Stephen Hawking to figure out that A. Nancy Pelosi's outfit cost more than the average American paid for their first home and B. there is a pretty high degree of difficulty involved in balancing the federal budget yet the leader of the free world just told us, "We can do so without raising taxes." And half the people in the hall -- Bush's half -- stood and cheered.

Worst effort at "balance"

Fox News for hosting former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to respond to Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) response to the State of the Union address:

HUME: We've now heard a Democratic reaction to the president's comments. Let's get a Republican reaction from none other -- down in the state of Florida tonight -- the former mayor of New York City and a current Republican presidential hopeful, Rudy Giuliani. Good evening, Mr. Mayor. Welcome.

GIULIANI: Good evening. How you doing?

HUME: I'm doing well, thanks. Your thoughts about this speech and this night?

GIULIANI: Well, I thought the speech was a very good one, and I thought it did what the president had to do, which was to get us kind of beyond Iraq, meaning there are a lot of other things we have to concentrate on.

Fox did not feature a Democratic response to Giuliani's response to the Democratic response to Bush's speech.

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