The Washington Post has an article in which White House speechwriters, going back four decades, talk about the way in which Presidents have approached the annual State Of The Union address before Congress. In it, Lee Huebner of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who was deputy director of the White House speechwriting staff during President Nixon’s administration, points out that the speech was not always a high-visibility event, in terms of a nationwide audience:
it’s a state occasion — it’s become a great ceremony. I think this happened mainly when Lyndon Johnson decided to move it from noon until evening . . . in 1965. And suddenly, instead of the kind of speech for the well-informed people who follow government closely, it became a speech for the general public. Presidents have felt the demand to make it an uplifting, ceremonial, rhetorical success, and these two objectives, I think, clash.