Tomorrow, President Obama will address the US and the world to put across the case for military action in Syria. We’ve got a pretty good idea of what he’ll say; that gassing almost 1,500 of your own people is a war crime which cannot go unanswered by the watching world. But what isn’t as clear is where he’ll say it from.
For decades, US presidents have interrupted evening TV schedules to speak to the nation at moments when the it needs to listen. Harry Truman did it first, in 1947. Richard Nixon did it to announce his resignation from the presidency that would be commencing at noon the following day.
Ronald Reagan did it a record 29 times and George W Bush spoke for four minutes and 25 seconds on September 11, 2001: “Today our nation saw evil,” the President said, “the very worst of human nature.”
The setting for these moments has been invariably the Oval Office, the most important room in the most important building in the political and national life of the US. But over the past decade the Oval Office has been slipping from view on moments like these. George W Bush addressed the nation from it only seven times during his eight years in office. His successor – Barack Obama – has spoken from the storied room only twice. Neither leader has liked the format – preferring the human touch to the lofty lecture.
President Bush addressed the nation on the Hurricane Katrina disaster from a square in New Orleans – with equipment shipped in from the White House. President Obama utilised the marble grandeur and drama of the Cross Hall in Washington DC to tell his citizens that Osama bin Laden was dead.
Addresses from the Oval Office offer a "coming together" moment that today’s fragmenting and diversifying media environment seems to have little need for.
But whatever the President says tomorrow night and wherever he says it from, it’s likely that many Americans – 51 per cent of whom oppose US strikes on Syria – will be watching and listening, somewhere, somehow.
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.