There was more than a little irony in the shootout with accused murderer Christopher Dorner running straight into the State of the Union address, and preempting it on a number of Los Angeles TV stations, as well as the sadly declining newsradio outlet KNX-AM 1070.
Because while President Obama’s call for a vote on gun-control legislation — repeating “They deserve a vote,” while the camera panned to victims of gun violence — was clearly the most emotionally powerful element within the context of his broad legislative agenda, it increasingly looks to be among the least likely to produce much in the way of significant action.
Coverage of the gun issue has had somewhat more legs than I anticipated in the immediate aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., but the forces pushing back against legislative remedies have also had time to fortify their position, which has included blaming Hollywood and videogames, seeking to deflect responsibility. As usual, people in politics get in trouble for speaking the truth, and a lobbyist got in some hot water for suggesting all the gun lobby had to do was wait out the “Connecticut effect.”
The media’s role is actually much more complex than that, including how intoxicated it is with a story like the Dorner drama, which almost screams “Movie!” in its cinematic, Rambo-like aspects. Perhaps that’s why several of the cable networks and local stations couldn’t cut away from analyzing the State of the Union fast enough to get back to the latest updates regarding Dorner, even though the story at that point appeared to be going nowhere fast.
To be fair, of course, the media love violence and crime stories because they know their audience does. But it was still fascinating to see the battle for the soul of a network in flux, like CNN, played out so conspicuously. (The channel used the event to showcase new anchors Chris Cuomo and Jake Tapper, both recruited from ABC News.)
A word, too, about Sen. Marco Rubio, who delivered the Republican response to the president’s address. Ignoring the specific content, the visuals — which matter in these situations — were awkward. Rubio is handsome, but he must have been too hot under the lights (he kept dabbing at his temples and lunged for a water bottle), and all the biography he included sounded more like a campaign speech than a response to the Democrats. And that used-car salesman smile at the end made Mrs. TV Critic laugh out loud.
Fortunately, my guess is not many people hung around for the full response. After all, with very little effort, the audience that did tune in to see the President could easily return to the manhunt for yet another lunatic with a gun.