CNN’S WEAK RATIONALE FOR DUELING SOTU RESPONSES…. I didn’t intend to return to the subject, but CNN’s explanation for why it’s airing two Republican responses to President Obama’s State of the Union address is pretty odd.

To briefly recap, congressional Republican leaders announced last week that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would deliver the party’s official response to the president’s national address. Soon after, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she, too, would deliver a response to the SOTU, and her speech would be broadcast and endorsed by the Tea Party Express.

NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox will air Obama’s speech, followed by Ryan’s speech. CNN, however, will air all three — the president’s address, followed by a speech by a far-right Republican, and then followed by another speech by a different far-right Republican

This afternoon, Greg Sargent got an official explanation from CNN:

“The Tea Party has become a major force in American politics and within the Republican Party. Hearing the Tea Party’s perspective on the State of the Union is something we believe CNN’s viewers will be interested in hearing and we are happy to include this perspective as one of many in tonight’s coverage.”

As justifications go, I’d hoped CNN would do better than this.

There are a couple of angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that CNN seems to be treating Tea Party activists as offering something unique — almost as if it’s a distinct political party with a perspective all its own. Major media outlets need to understand how very wrong this is — the so-called Tea Party is another name for “the Republican base.” There is no meaningful, qualitative difference, and as a result, CNN is airing two Republican responses to one presidential speech.

The second is that airing a bizarre speech from an unhinged, radical lawmaker — who CNN already knows to be unreliable — because Tea Partiers are “a major force” is a weak rationale. The problem isn’t just that this is tantamount to saying the Republican base is “a major force,” it’s also overlooking the fact that there are plenty of “major forces” in American politics.

Would CNN be inclined to air a SOTU response from the AFL-CIO? Labor unions are a major political force. How about responses from the NRA and the U.S. Chamber or Commerce? They’re major forces, too. There are plenty of major forces, with constituencies focused on abortion, the environment, the wars, etc. They can’t all have rejoinders to the State of the Union aired on national television, which is why the other major networks are content to show Obama and the official GOP response.

Dave Weigel added that CNN has “a longstanding romance” with the Tea Party Express, the political action committee that organized and is sponsoring the Bachmann speech. That’s true, and while it makes the announcement more predictable, it also makes this somehow worse.

In the meantime, Republicans on the Hill aren’t exactly pleased with Bachmann or CNN, since all of this distracts from the GOP’s message and muddles the party’s response.

And the Republican effort to look like grown-ups takes another big step backwards.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.