Tuesday night, as multiple news networks are set to air Donald Trump’s address on immigration—a speech that promises to deliver a smorgasbord of lies, live and in primetime—it’s worthwhile to remember that broadcasters could just as easily choose not to air the president.
In fact, it’s a decision they have made before. As multiple outlets and pundits have noted, news networks chose in 2014 not to air then-president Barack Obama’s speech—also on immigration—on the grounds that it was “overtly political.”
A network insider tells Playbook: “There was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political. The White House has tried to make a comparison to a time that all the networks carried President Bush in prime time, also related to immigration . But that was a bipartisan announcement, and this is an overtly political move by the White House.”
Hrmmm. Notice a pattern?
Now, the four major broadcast networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox—have reversed course, opting to air Trump’s eight-minute address. MSNBC, CNN and Fox News will also be airing the speech, scheduled for 9:00 p.m. EST.
Coverage of the speech will present clear challenges for networks: How will they fact-check, in real-time, a speech that many anticipate will be riddled with lies? The circumstances of the speech tell us everything: In the middle of a government shutdown, Trump needs to sell the American people on the urgency of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border—a wall the majority of Americans don’t want.
Trump has repeatedly lied about a national security crisis at the border, claiming it is overrun with terrorists (Fun fact! More immigrants on terror watch lists were actually stopped in Canada); drug and human trafficking (no data shows immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans); and that the border wall is the only way to get things under control (border crossings have actually been declining for years). NBC News has even published a running list of previous lies—and their rebuttals—to keep handy. Presumably, this will be helpful for the viewers they will voluntarily broadcast these lies to.
As Matt Yglesias noted for Vox, television news has a substantial and fairly well-documented history of showing Republicans extra love—regardless of who’s in the White House. All of this, then, is very much in keeping with what news outlets have always done.
Now, imagine if they honored that same commitment for broadcasting the truth.