Let’s face it, congressional speeches rank pretty low on the media’s food chart of what New York based executives think American audiences care about. While there is still beat coverage on Capitol Hill, few speeches seem to make it on network radio or TV, and except for CSPAN, there is precious little video coverage of what’s said in the well of the House and Senate. What little is said is reduced to snippets of sound and not substantive blocks or speeches.
That’s what makes Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) Thursday remarks about funding medical coverage for first responders to 9/11 all the more surprising. His passionate speech, some will call it angry and emotional, was aired on both morning and evening newscasts Friday. ABC’s World News Tonight treated it as a stand alone sound bite while NBC Nightly News incorporated it into a larger story. But 48 hours after his remarks, by midday Saturday, the speech was watched almost 500,000 times on You Tube alone.
This poses the question – was it because he was emotional or did it merely tap the emotional third rail represented by 9/11? Was that passion unusual for the House? Online coverage Congressman Anthony Weiner gets loud, calls out GOP for 9/11 health bill made reference to Weiner as a modern day Mr. Smith, a modern day James Stewart, the incarnate member of the Congress, imbued with passion and commitment and oratory.
From my perspective I wonder whether there is a greater-than-imagined appetite for stirring oratory? I wonder if the American media might steal a page from British coverage of Parliament, for instance Prime Minister’s Question Time, where there has always been greater attention paid to the spoken word and disagreement.
No doubt the overwhelming amount of live coverage from Congress, as well as state houses and local elected offices and boards, is dismal – stiff, formal, impersonal and quite often less than articulate. But it it refreshing to see and hear compelling speeches. And judging from the response to Representative Weiner, networks ought to take note that the public does feel well-served when they can hear and see for themselves.
On the face of this it is a risk of producing “boring” TV. Or is it?