Photo: White House/Pete Souza
CBS newsman Bob Schieffer compares a second presidential swearing-in to a second trip down the aisle: The veil has been lifted.”The first wedding is always the fairy tale setting â€” there’s high hopes and expectations, and the bride’s dad spends a lot of money. The second time around, reality kind of sets in,” he says. “Everybody realises it’s kind of harder than we thought it was.”
Schieffer knows, not because he’s had more than one marriage (he hasn’t), but because Obama’s second inauguration Monday will make an even dozen he has covered. (At President Richard Nixon’s ceremony in 1969, he covered the Yippies’ “counter-inauguration” of a pig. It escaped.)
Television coverage similarly will be less of an all-out event than the historic inauguration four years ago of the nation’s first African-American president. Then, even broadcast networks, which for many news events cede wall-to-wall coverage to cable networks, stayed on the air for most of Inauguration Day and aired evening specials.
There will still be a flock of TV reporters on the ground. Beginning Saturday, networks will air shows from locations in Washington including the National Mall, Lafayette Park and in the case of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the Dubliner pub a few blocks from the Capitol. CNN will deploy 44 correspondents and commentators to report and discuss the inauguration events from Saturday through Monday evening, and ABC will have 35 on-air personnel and a broadcast booth in the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, there will be fewer hours of coverage. In 2009, the three broadcast networks devoted prime-time hours on Inauguration Day to coverage of inaugural balls, special programs on Obama’s rise to the presidency and the president and Michelle Obama’s first dance. This year, ABC will air live from the event all day starting at 7 a.m. but will limit evening coverage to its regular news program and Nightline, which airs at 12:35 p.m. ET. CBS has trimmed its Inauguration Day coverage by an hour, ending at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. NBC will halt its day of coverage at 4 p.m. but expand its nightly newscast to one hour to cover the day’s events.
On cable, Fox News Channel plans coverage from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and again for an hour in the evening, according to the online news site TV By The Numbers. MSNBC will return to regular programming at 4 p.m. CNN will be devoted to the inauguration for all of Sunday, when the president will be sworn in at a private ceremony, and Monday through the Inaugural Balls in the evening.
Four years ago, TV networks were rewarded for their efforts with high viewership: Obama’s inauguration in 2009 drew more than 37.8 million viewers, the most since 1981, when President Ronald Reagan’s swearing-in was viewed by 41.8 million people, according to Nielsen ratings figures. If Obama’s second inauguration is like previous second swearings-in, viewership will drop: 29 million people watched President George W. Bush take the oath in 2001; four years later, 15.5 million watched his second inauguration.
At least for those in Washington, brutal months of fiscal cliff wrangling, Superstorm Sandy, the Newtown, Conn., school shootings and the prospect of more arguing over the debt ceiling have dampened the traditional high spirits that come with the pomp of a presidential inauguration, Schieffer says.
“I sense less enthusiasm for this inauguration than any one that I can remember,” he says. “Still, it will be exciting. The ceremony and all of that, in my view, is more important than the players themselves. It’s just an affirmation of who we are and what we stand for.”
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