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Altered States (of Unions)

A week after President Obama’s first “State of the Union” speech, many ideas are flitting and floating through my mind. I didn’t hear everything I wanted to hear, but I am reminded that for the first time in eight long, dark years, I was able to watch the speech without empyting my sock drawer, poised to pelt the screen every few minutes, reacting to untruths, hyperbole, smugness, empty rhetoric, saber-rattling, etc.

I don’t have any particular comments about Obama’s State of the Union speech itself, but I’ve noticed an abundance of “States of the Unions” in the media lately and thought I might pull a Betsy Ross and piece them together for you.

1. State of the Re:Union is public radio talent quest winner Al Letson’s new program funded by CPB and distributed by PRX and NPR. Letson is a gifted storyteller, a griot who blends the poet and the preacher. His documentary Bayard Rustin: Who is this Man? is a reminder why we still need Black History Month, despite actor Morgan Freeman’s assertion to the contrary. Letson takes his talent on the road this spring with programs that unpack the meaning of community in diverse places like tornado-wrecked Greensburg, Kansas, the multicultural borough of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the post-timber milltowns of Oregon.

2. CNN Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has landed the gig as the host of CNN’s Sunday news-talk program State of the Union. Finally, a woman in the anchor’s seat for one of the many weekend political chat shows.  Crowley said, “To me, Sunday morning is a sweet spot – a weekly meeting place to bring the hopes, worries and questions of everyday Americans … to the people I talk with in the Corridors of Power.” Wow! This populist journalistic mission already promises to set her program apart from many other inside-the-Beltway blatherfests. The more power to her. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if Crowley would have gotten the coveted job if she hadn’t shape-shifted through weight loss, making her more visually acceptable to/on a network that’s home to hunks like Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta. It must also be noted that the program itself has been slimmed down from four hours to one. Less is more.

3. After a decade, public radio and TV host Tavis Smiley has ended his State of the Black Union, a project that served to remind elected officials and the rest of us that there are still two Americas and a gulf between our country’s creed and its’ conduct. In an honest videotaped message to his fans, Smiley mentioned how busy this time of year is; how during Black History Month, African American leaders in various fields can rake in serious speaking fees, and that all of the folks who appeared on his forums did so without compensation. I don’t think Smiley is suggesting that now that we have an African American president, we don’t need to address the ongoing economic and social realities of being born black in a America, but perhaps his project has run its course. And, of course, a boxed-set collection of all 10 years is available for purchase.

4.  Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union is an edgy, satirical take on American politics and culture, and more evidence that cable channels like Showtime are so much better and bolder than network TV. It airs on Monday nights at 10:30 pm ET. Last season, she graced us with her extremely funny and right-on imitation of Arianna Huffington, who is constantly blogging and doing pilates. This year, she’s added MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to the line up of colorful characters she channels. Nailed it!

5. State of Gay Unions: Finally, with gay marriage being battled in the states, let me share this excellent post from Mark Luckie‘s 10,000 Words blog which spotlights how various news media are using interactive, multimedia tools to cover the issue of gay marriage, including this fascinating visualization of pro-con arguments from GOOD magazine.