TV Watch: Michele Bachmann’s Rogue Rebuttal Defies Unity Theme- Representative Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party leader, didn’t bring a “prom date” to the State of the Union address, she didn’t wear the ribbon corsage and she crashed the after party known as the official Republican response. When Ms. Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, addressed the nation with her own, more alarmist assessment of its state, she seemed almost like the telekinetic high school heroine of “Carrie.”
Ms. Bachmann defied Democratic and Republican leaders who had scripted a night of unity, courtesy and common purpose. Instead, Ms. Bachmann gave viewers a blast of Tea Partisan fury that served as a rebuke to both President Obama and to the milder, more conciliatory official Republican response delivered by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
It wasn’t just what she said, though she used words like “explosion” and “exploded” and “Obamacare” a lot. It was the way Ms. Bachmann spoke, smiling and gesturing with an intensity that almost cracked the screen.
“Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy and which may put 16,500 I.R.S. agents in charge of policing President Obama’s health care bill,” Ms. Bachmann said, standing in front of a huge chart of unemployment figures.
She didn’t look directly into the camera but stared slightly to her right, which added to the sense of discordance. (She was looking into a Tea Party Express camera, but was recorded by a pool camera that belonged to Fox News.)
During Mr. Obama’s speech, Ms. Bachmann defied the bipartisan seating plan, electing to sit between two fellow Republican congresswomen instead of a Democrat. (Even Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina who famously shouted “You lie” at Mr. Obama during the president’s 2009 address, sat between two Democrats.)
Ms. Bachmann didn’t wear the black and white ribbon in honor of Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the Tucson assassination attempt that so many of her colleagues, including Mr. Ryan, donned for the night.
CNN was the only television news organization to show Ms. Bachmann’s speech live, and was quickly attacked for elevating her above her real importance. Her speech was obviously newsworthy, though: rival news organizations didn’t dare ignore it. The NBC anchorman Brian Williams interviewed her live after she delivered her response. MSNBC showed clips. Fox News chose to run it in delay, after the anchorwoman Greta Van Susteren first solicited the views of the former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and two Republicans.
There was more than a hint of exploitation to CNN’s decision to show it live — less an Edward R. Murrow moment than a flashback to CNN’s manic live coverage of the errant “balloon boy” in 2009. But unlike that moment of cable news madness, Ms. Bachmann isn’t a hoax. She represents a powerful faction in Congress that insisted on speaking out even on a night when political leaders asked for some quiet. Viewers had every right and reason to hear what she said, when she said it.
Her timing, after all, was what shocked even members of her own party. Ms. Bachmann spoke up with the kind of polemical passion that official Washington forswore for the night — for good reason.
Viewers of the speech not only watched the president address both houses of Congress, but they also saw the first lady’s box, where invited guests included the parents and brother of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was one of six people killed by the Tucson gunman. They even caught a fleeting glimpse of Ms. Giffords, whose seat in the Capitol was left empty and who was shown after the speech from her hospital bed alongside her husband, Capt. Mark E. Kelly, a NASA astronaut. (Captain Kelly allowed a camera to shoot them watching the television, but the picture was framed to show only her hand clasped in his, not her face.)
Ms. Bachmann assured her audience that she didn’t intend to “compete” with the official Republican response, but she certainly clashed with most everyone in the room.