News & Politics

Biden's Speech Was so Political That the Major TV Networks Refused to Carry It

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The three major broadcast TV networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS — refused to carry Joe Biden’s prime-time speech to the nation on the threat to democracy by “MAGA Republicans” because it was deemed too “political.”

Instead, NBC broadcast a rerun of Law and Order, CBS skipped the speech to show a rerun of Young Sheldon, and ABC aired the game show Press Your Luck.

Since the advent of live national television broadcasts in the early 1950s, presidents have requested and demanded time for live TV broadcasts during national emergencies or on matters of great urgency. And while the networks have usually complied, there have been exceptions, including in 1988 when the networks rejected Ronald Reagan’s address on funding for the Nicaraguan Contras because there was “nothing new” in it.

One might have said the same thing about Biden’s Thursday night address on the “danger to democracy” posed by MAGA Republicans. Instead, according to the Washington Post, the three networks passed on giving up an hour of profitable prime time so that Joe Biden can repeat Democratic talking points about Trump and Republicans.

People involved in negotiations over Thursday’s address said the networks deemed Biden’s remarks as “political” in nature and therefore decided not to televise it. These people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions, cited the speech’s criticism of Trump — Biden’s possible political opponent in 2024 — and its timing two months before the midterm elections.

White House officials had earlier tried to counter the impression of partisanship, with one telling NBC News that it was “not a speech about a particular politician or even about a particular political party.”

Liar. Biden mentioned Trump by name and indicated several times that the threat was coming from MAGA Republicans.

The networks apparently don’t agree with our hair-on-fire president’s description of what’s happening in America. Or they probably also recognized that Biden was not offering any new information about the “MAGA threat,” nor was he saying anything he and the Democrats haven’t been saying about Trump and his 74 million supporters for months.

Some commentators criticized the networks for declining to air the speech. “The networks refusing to cover Biden’s speech (presumably because it was going to be critical of Trump and/or not newsworthy enough) is precisely the problem” confronting democracy, tweeted Dartmouth University political scientist Brendan Nyhan, in one of a number of tweets calling attention to the networks’ decision.

But George Washington University professor Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor, said in an interview that the speech “was framed in very partisan, political terms, and though that may reflect reality, in strictly editorial terms it makes this a close call as to whether networks should interrupt regular programming and provide the White House 30 minutes of airtime.”

While the live audience for Biden’s speech may have been smaller without the broadcast networks airing it, the echo chamber on cable and the internet made sure the message was disseminated far and wide. Perhaps that’s why the major networks refused to take a hit financially simply to hear the same, tired political charges against Trump and the Republicans that Democrats have made for months.