Traditionally, all the networks air the official State of the Union address, followed by the official response from the opposition party. This year, however, there will be a Tea Party response, given by Republican Michele Bachmann. The response will be aired on the website of the Tea Party Express group. As it happens, that's the same group that is hosting a Tea Party-themed Republican presidential debate with CNN later in the year.
In a statement, Sam Feist, CNN's political director, defended the decision to air the response.
"The Tea Party has become a major force in American politics and within the Republican Party," he said. "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."