Episode 25: The Greatest Show on Earth

How did the State of the Union become such a circus?

If you’ve ever watched or heard a State of the Union address, you might think the event starts like this: “Mr. Speaker! The President of the United States!”

But, as is true with so many things in Washington, there’s more to the story. A lot more.

The State of the Union address – SOTU as it’s known in Washington – is a mass media event that takes hours, no, make that days, no, make that months, of preparation.

The SOTU is highly orchestrated by the White House, by members of Congress, by the news media.

For many reporters, the speech itself is a blip. Their focus is Statuary Hall, which is a short walk from the House chamber where the president gives the annual speech.

“Stat Hall” – more jargon used by the Washington in-crowd – is interview central. A lot of lawmakers pass through the hall on their way to the address – some of them stopping to give reporters their response to a speech they have not yet heard – and almost all of them head to “Stat Hall” after the speech for the media after party. A few of the lawmakers are high-profile enough for reporters to flock to them when they enter the hall; most line up at one of many television interview locations and wait for their turn in front of the camera.

It’s a media mob scene.

To give you a sense of the entire day it takes news crews to set up and cover the mob, we perched a camera on a balcony overlooking the room and produced a time-lapse video of the craziness.

And to find out how the SOTU became such a circus – think of Stat Hall as the Big Top – listen to DecodeDC’s latest podcast: Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest show on earth!

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