News & Politics

What if the President Gave a Televised Address and Networks Didn't Cover It?

President Donald Trump, Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Donald Trump has requested air time from TV networks on Tuesday evening at 9:00 PM Eastern time for an Oval Office address on the “national security crisis” at the border.

As of this writing, the only over-the-air TV network to agree to air the speech is CBS. On cable, Fox News and CNN have said they will carry the speech live.


Many Trump critics posted messages on social media urging the networks not to air an address that could be filled with falsehoods. Some said that a prominent Democrat should be given equal time. It is unclear if any sort of Democratic rebuttal is in the works.

Spokespeople for ABC, NBC, the Fox broadcast network, and PBS either declined to comment or said they would comment at a later time.

One of the TV executives who spoke to CNN Business confirmed that the White House had requested time for the speech, as is customary in the relationship between a president and the press.

“Time has been requested for 9 p.m. Networks are deliberating,” the network executive said.

Trump is almost certain to go ahead with the address regardless of what the broadcast networks do.

National broadcast networks are torn between doing their jobs and acting like partisan hacks.

Surprisingly, there is precedent for the networks ignoring a presidential address — sort of.

There is precedent, however, for broadcast networks declining to air a presidential speech. In 2014, ABC, NBC, and CBS declined to carry an address delivered by President Barack Obama on immigration, though Obama’s White House never formally requested time after it was determined networks would be reluctant to agree to broadcast it.

Aside from personal animus against Trump, why would the networks not carry his speech?

There has been a recent debate in journalism circles about whether networks should air Trump’s words in real-time. Several media critics, for instance, told CNN last week that networks should not rush to air Trump’s remarks made during pool sprays and briefings, given how much misinformation he spreads.

“Some advice — demand to see the text in advance and if it is not truthful either don’t air it or fact check it live on lower third,” tweeted Joe Lockhart, the former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton. “And cut away if he goes off text and starts lying.”

That may or may not be correct. Trump certainly says a lot of things that simply aren’t true, but is it deliberate prevarication or just plain ignorance?

Either way, it’s not the job of “journalists” to make those kinds of judgments. If they want to “fact check” Trump, that is an editorial decision. If they’re too damn lazy to do their jobs, why deny the American people the opportunity to make their own determination about the president’s truthfulness?

That’s the problem. The press thinks you’re too stupid to know when Trump is lying or getting his facts wrong. Maybe you are. But it’s certainly not in the media’s job description to make that determination.

If the press had been as zealous about fact checking Mr. Obama as they are about fact checking Trump, they might have half a leg to stand on. But they didn’t so they don’t.

Just carry the damn speech and do your jobs.