Networks prepare for State of Union

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With issues of domestic spying and the war in Iraq keeping Washington abuzz, the networks will devote hours of coverage to President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The president is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress shortly after 9 p.m. EST. The broadcast networks plan to begin coverage at 9 p.m. and then offer analysis and the Democrats' response from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. The cable channels will offer extended coverage.

Bush has been devoting more time to making the public case for the war in Iraq, with a number of his speeches carried live on cable channels. It's likely that he'll devote a fair amount of the speech to Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Viewership for the State of the Union speeches has been declining in recent years. Last year's speech--Bush's fourth while in office--was the lowest-viewed of his presidency, with 38.3 million tuning in February 2, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was far lower than the 62.1 million who watched the January 28, 2003, speech before the war in Iraq began and the 51.8 million who watched January 29, 2002, the first after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the start of the war in Afghanistan. It's even lower than his first, which averaged 39.8 million viewers February 27, 2001.

ABC News had planned to have Bob Woodruff co-anchor from Baghdad before Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were hurt in a roadside bomb attack. Elizabeth Vargas will anchor the State of the Union from Washington.

And in a partnership with America Online and ABCNews.com, correspondent Jake Tapper will be monitoring instant reaction to the speech with a push-polling technique developed by AOL News.

NBC News' Brian Williams will anchor two-hour coverage of the speech and Democrats' response along with Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert and other NBC News staffers. They also will be the only network enlisting the help of Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean and Republican National Committee chair Ken Melhman for spin following the speeches.

Bob Schieffer on Friday scored an exclusive interview with the president that appeared on the CBS Evening News on Friday night and also on Schieffer's Face the Nation on Sunday morning. Schieffer will anchor CBS News' coverage in Washington and will feature Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, and Senator Joseph Biden, D-Delaware.

Fox Broadcasting and Fox News Channel will offer coverage of the speech, with Fox coverage anchored by Shepard Smith and analysis by former House Majority leader Newt Gingrich, among others. On the Fox News Channel, Brit Hume will anchor the coverage that includes a lead-in of The O'Reilly Factor and an hour-long Hannity & Colmes live. Hume will be joined by White House correspondent Carl Cameron, analysts Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke, and Bill Kristol, among others.

MSNBC will start even earlier, with the 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. editions of Hardball with Chris Matthews. When the NBC coverage signs off at about 11 p.m. EST, NBC's Williams and Russert will appear with Matthews to discuss the speech and its implications.

CNN's coverage will begin with The Situation Room anchor Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn at 7 p.m. Analysis will come from John King, Candy Crowley and Jeff Greenfield, among others. CNN's Anderson Cooper will pick up from Blitzer and Zahn after the Democrats' response, the network said.

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