Appitude: The White House delivers the best, most biased State of the Union coverage anywhere

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

By Virginia Heffernan

As far as I can tell, there’s only one white guy milling around: Joe Biden. Oh and maybe Nick Jonas. Elsewhere, soulfully swaying and crooning in the White House are Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Jordin Sparks, Seal and Smokey Robinson.

And also Barack Obama, who before he delivered his first State of the Union speech of his second term on Tuesday night, appeared in a video with the music stars. It’s a mini-doc about the Motown celebration at the White House made by WhiteHouse.gov. And it’s really good.

In preparation for the president’s speech, I watched it toe-tappingly on Tuesday, on my phone, using the White House app, which I have been avoiding for as long as I’ve known what an app is.

I will avoid the app no longer. The White House makes excellent video, and it’s time to face that the White House covers itself—when you count the all-important challenges of digital distribution and don’t care about favoritism, that old-media bogeyman—better than any journalist anywhere.

It turns out that the White House has marvelous access to the White House.

Tonight, in that tradition, for the State of the Union address, the White House itself is—on the Web and on the app—streaming “an enhanced version of the speech that features graphics, data and stats that highlight the issues the president is discussing.”

See what I mean? Why listen to Fox broadcasters carp—or MSNBC types fawn? Why read The New York Times tomorrow, or even Yahoo News?

Download the app and you can get the real story of the State of the Union address—from the White House itself!

It’s diabolically clever. The White House’s cameras are always on the star of the show, always with the best angle and lights. An enhancer developer dude is always standing by—not with makeup and lighting fills, but with dataviz materials to give the numbers behind Obama’s policies.

It makes you think you’d have to be a bonehead to listen to the networks or Twitter rant about how much gray is in the president’s hair or how often he doesn’t use the word “homeland” or “Tuscaloosa.” If you want the facts about the president’s plans, the White House app suggests, listen to the president’s own guys.

So I’ve been steadily pressing on with this well-wrought app. I’ve watched tons of video of the president today. I watched him pray to be a “man of valor” at the Medal of Honor ceremony, while his team is getting ready for the State of the Union.

That’s right; somehow they made this video, which shows young men getting the enhanced graphics together for another White House video event, this very day. And they produced it and got it on the app today.

All I can say is that Obama’s app, like his new media team, like his campaign, like his stealthy online presence, is aggressive but silky smooth. The Obama persona seeks world domination by scorched-earth seduction. He’s “a rough, tough lover with a sentimental plan,” as Aretha might have put it.

The White House app feels exactly like a White House app should. Informative, cool, a little whimsical, as when President Obama urges a science-fair winner to launch a marshmallow across the White House with his air cannon.

But it’s never desperate; it’s always professional; and it’s a little short on true interactivity. I’d say it was regal. But Obama is a president and democratically elected in a country with a nominally free press, so I would be uncomfortable comparing him to a king, even a kindly one.

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