The media loves its (manufactured) showdowns

THE MEDIA LOVES ITS (MANUFACTURED) SHOWDOWNS…. Dick Cheney, as you may have heard, will give a speech this morning about how great his approach to national security was and is. If you’re interested in watching, don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to see it.

Looks like Dick Cheney’s big national security speech at the American Enterprise Institute … is going to get wall-to-wall cable coverage — giving a major assist to those who hope that his speech will be seen as “dueling” with the one that Obama is planning to give on the same topic tomorrow.

Both CNN and MSNBC will be carrying Cheney’s speech live tomorrow, in addition to carrying Obama’s, spokespeople for both networks confirm to me, barring the intrusion of some major news event.

I haven’t seen official word from Fox News about its plans, but I’m going to assume the network will air the speech live, just as soon as its reporters finish feeding Cheney grapes while he lounges in the AEI green-room.

Because President Obama will be delivering an important speech on national security policy this morning — not to be confused with Cheney’s efforts — news outlets are excited about the notion of a “duel” or a “boxing match” between the two. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer sees today as a confrontation between two powerful opposing forces.

This is no doubt exactly the frame Republicans are desperate to see the media embrace, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s terribly misguided. As Katia Bachko explained very well yesterday, “[I]t’s completely unreasonable to frame these two speeches as an actual debate between two equals. We have a democratically elected president, and an unpopular former politician who are not directly engaging with one another. The question of national security is too important to sidestep in favor of a falsely construed schoolyard fight between a bully and the class president. What’s more, to set up these speeches as a contest presupposes that there might be an actual winner. But this sort of shallow, politics-as-a-game coverage only makes losers — of the press and of the public.”

The president’s speech begins at 10 a.m. (eastern), to be delivered at the National Archives. Cheney’s think-tank speech is scheduled to begin 45 minutes later, though if Obama goes long, I suspect the former vice president will delay his remarks for maximum media impact.

Post Script: Some emailers noted yesterday that Al Gore, had he delivered a major speech early on in the Bush/Cheney presidency, might have received similar media attention. It’s hard to say for sure, since Gore bit his tongue for two years, as is consistent with the historical norms.

But I’d add, for the record, that Gore delivered some extraordinary speeches early in 2004 — one at an event sponsored by MoveOn, the other at the New School in New York. Neither was covered live by the cable networks.