Networks are airing Trump's speech - should they?
As the partial government shutdown continues into its 12th day, President Donald Trump is standing by his border wall demands, insisting the southern border is "like a sieve" and claiming Democrats won't negotiate because of politics. (Jan. 2)
President Donald Trump wants to address the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday to talk about immigration — specifically his desire to build a wall — and, presumably, the shutdown of the federal government.
Broadcast networks are giving the president a slot in prime time to make his case. Cable news outlets will too. Pundits, armchair and otherwise, have taken to social media to debate whether the networks should have granted Trump the time.
Just what we need, division concerning division.
Should they have? No one’s ever asked me to run a network (you’d be seeing a lot of “Freaks and Geeks” marathons if they did), but I think, probably, yes.
Although that comes with a major caveat: It is essential that all the networks fact-check Trump in real time, as he's speaking. They have the technology, and they need to use it.
President Trump said a "see-through wall of steel" will be stronger and "more beautiful" than a concrete border wall. USA TODAY
There’s no requirement that networks air this or any other presidential address. And prime time is expensive real estate. But typically if it’s something of national importance, they will air a presidential addresses.
Though not always. They didn’t broadcast President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in 2014 — something pointed out on social media Monday. So there's precedent for not doing so.
The argument for not airing the speech runs something like this: Trump has repeatedly lied about immigration, about the shutdown, about the causes and effects. (Typically this has come from his Twitter feed, but he’s talked to journalists in dribs and drabs, as well.) Plus, as recently as Monday morning, he’s trashed the media. So why give him free air time to keep it up, particularly when you can’t challenge misstatements and lies in real time? Why let him mislead even more people on a bigger stage?
The argument for airing it seems simpler — he’s the president — but it’s really more complex than that. Again, there’s no guarantee of free air time — the government doesn’t run the networks, they’re private businesses. But this president has been different from the start. The regular rules don’t apply, no matter what the issue.
But even if you believe Trump won’t be truthful or forthcoming, you can argue that it’s important to get him on the record, in front of the nation, taking about immigration. Then you have the facts of what he said (although for his supporters, that hasn’t mattered so far).
Plus, there’s a news hook to this address that others have lacked: the shutdown. There are no signs of an agreement any time soon, and it’s affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees — to say nothing of the millions who visit national parks, monuments, etc. People want answers and they want responsibility. An address aired on broadcast networks could — could — help provide that.
President Donald Trump says that he told congressional leaders the partial government shutdown could go on for months or years. But he said he didn't think it would. (Jan. 4)
Of course there are no guarantees. But if Trump does lie, the networks must point it out AS IT HAPPENS. At this point it’s hard to imagine a win-win situation with any of this, but that might be the best option, at least.
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