Does it matter if they do or don’t? We live in an age when 60 percent of Americans use streaming services like Netflix, never mind have access to YouTube or some sort of cable TV service. Anyone who wants to catch Trump’s speech will find a way.
But this dispute is like the dispute over the wall itself: It’s not a matter of efficacy, it’s a matter of principle. Liberals don’t want the broadcast networks to say no to Trump because they think that’ll meaningfully diminish his ability to get his message out. They want them to say no to spite him. He deserves it, they point out, after having spent two years in office demagoging the media (as recently as this morning). If, after all that, they agree to carry his speech live then they’ll have proved that demagoguery works. Granted, if they don’t carry it then Trump will crow that their decision is proof of their bias. But he’s going to find a reason tomorrow to crow that they’re fake news anyway. They might as well turn him down and let that be the reason, or so the argument goes.
Yet the fact remains that his speech is news. It’s not some random address. It’s a speech about a major current event, a government shutdown that might require withholding pay from hundreds of thousands of federal workers on Friday. There’s a reasonable chance that Trump will use the speech to break more news, that he’s signing an executive order to declare a “national emergency” and re-appropriate defense funding for the wall. Leftist objections can be addressed by giving Democrats time to air a rebuttal statement after POTUS is done. It’s not personal between the networks and Trump, or at least it shouldn’t be. The fact is that he’s the president and his statement will articulate a national policy that bears directly on many people. That’s the argument for airing it.
The networks are currently debating whether to air the Trump address, and if they do, they would probably grant Democrats an opportunity to respond, according to two sources familiar with the ongoing deliberations who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
There is no ideal outcome for the networks. Should they decide to carry the speech, they will receive widespread criticism from Democrats over their decision to pass on Obama’s speech.
Should they decline, the networks will forgo a potentially significant news event and bolster Trump’s argument that the news media is biased against him.
Democrats on Twitter are noting that the broadcast networks declined to offer Obama time in 2014 to announce the DAPA program, his executive amnesty for illegal-immigrant parents of children who were born here.
Here is the full anonymous quote from a network executive justifying their refusal to air President Obama's Nov 2014 address for fear it would have been "overtly political." https://t.co/mhNJ9AeRKq pic.twitter.com/uUcI0oLonX
— Eric Schultz (@EricSchultz) January 7, 2019
Except they didn’t give Obama time in 2014 because they believed his speech about immigration would be “overtly partisan.” So this should be a relatively easy decision. https://t.co/yveysBWoKg
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) January 7, 2019
If you listen carefully, you can hear network execs coming up with tortured, wholly unbelievable reasons for why they will air Trump’s speech tomorrow night when they deemed one from Obama too political and refused to carry.
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) January 7, 2019
Sounds like tv networks will get a request soon for airtime for a Presidential address. 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. And cut away if he goes off text and starts lying. https://t.co/QIOJlY44Py
— Joe Lockhart (@joelockhart) January 7, 2019
The Obama precedent is interesting. Does the fact that Trump is speaking amid a shutdown lend it enough “news” value to offset the overtly partisan content? (Lefties will say no, that the fact that Trump caused the shutdown means airing his speech would amount to rewarding him for doing so.) What if Democrats are given an opportunity to respond? What about the fact that Obama’s DAPA speech was simply less newsworthy than Trump’s speech, as it wasn’t even his first major initiative in amnestizing people through executive order? The case is also being made that it’d be irresponsible to air the speech given Trump’s penchant to lie/exaggerate, but at base that’s an argument for never airing his public comments. Makes no sense to black him out on NBC and ABC on those grounds but to give CNN a thumbs up in carrying him live. The networks are free to fact-check him however they see fit.
As I’m writing this, they’re announcing that they’re all-in:
ABC will also air https://t.co/fOQ3UTLpor
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) January 7, 2019
CBS is in too, Byers noted separately. Although really — who cares? Whose mind is being changed about anything Trump-related at this stage of his presidency, let alone a marquee populist proposal like the wall?
What I don't get is how is Trump going to change minds on the wall? He's been making his case for 3.5 years now… and consistently voters have been against it.
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) January 7, 2019
The point isn’t to change minds. The point is to check the box and show his supporters that he did everything in his power to win this showdown before it’s resolved unsatisfactorily. He delivered a primetime address from the Oval Office to make his case. What more do you want from him? Bill Kristol, a strident Trump critic, said today on CNN that the networks should air the address if only to move this whole process along. If there can’t be a compromise until Trump has played all of his cards and proved to populists that there’s nothing more he can do to make the wall happen, then help him play his last card.
Speaking of CNN, they’ll carry the speech live, of course. No matter how much Trump rips on them, old-school fan Jeff Zucker will never give up on his one true love. A more interesting question than whether the networks will air it is which Democrat will be chosen to respond to it afterward. The sentimental favorite is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — she’s the party’s biggest new star — but she’s way too green for that. It has to be Pelosi, right? Most of the big-name Dems from the Senate are running for president such that letting any one of them have this opportunity would make it look like they were being given a leg up on the primaries. Schumer could do it but he’s only the minority leader and isn’t a compelling speaker. Pelosi is the face of the new House majority and now the most powerful Democrat in the country; she’s the closest thing her party has to someone of Trump’s political stature at the moment. If not her, who?