TV executive worries about airing Trump live

President Donald Trump tweeted he will address the nation Tuesday night, claiming a "humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border."

Posted: Jan 8, 2019 4:51 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2019 4:51 PM

President Trump is tapping into one of the powers of the presidency, a televised Oval Office address, for his first time. He will receive wall-to-wall coverage for his pro-wall speech on Tuesday night. And to say that there are mixed feelings about that is an understatement.

While the address may not change anyone's mind, there are very strong feelings both for and against the television networks' decisions to televise it in the first place. The debate isn't just raging on social media -- it is happening inside the networks as well.

At issue: How should a uniquely deceptive president be treated by TV networks that value the truth?

For some, it's a no-brainer: A presidential address from the Oval Office merits live coverage. Period.

For others, it's a no-brainer in the other direction: This particular president is so prone to falsehoods and fear-mongering that his speeches shouldn't be shown live.

The major networks "should refuse to turn over the airwaves to Donald Trump tonight for what they know objectively to be a steady stream of lies," MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski said Tuesday morning.

But MSNBC and its broadcast network brother, NBC, will carry the address, just like its rivals.

Stephen Colbert, the host of "The Late Show," alluded to the internal tensions in a tweet on Monday night. "My network will be carrying Trump's Wall speech live. So at 9pm Tuesday, tune into CBS to See B.S.," he wrote.

This issue is reflective of all the ongoing arguments about Trump and the media. People who believe Trump is a dire threat to the country think that TV networks should not help spread his propaganda. People who believe Trump is saving the country think this debate is indicative of liberal media bias, and that "anti-Trump" media outlets are the true propagandists.

For network executives, tradition and news judgment — the simple idea that this is "a presidential address from the Oval Office" — outweighed concerns about the content.

There is widespread agreement that anchors and reporters will be under pressure to fact-check and contextualize whatever Trump says.

When the White House officially requested airtime on Monday from the broadcast networks, as is customary in these cases, network executives deliberated about it for a few hours.

A TV executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, observed: "He calls us fake news all the time, but needs access to airwaves and cable pipes to deliver his false narrative."

On Monday evening CBS said yes, it would air the address, and NBC and ABC followed within minutes. The Fox broadcast network and PBS will also carry the address, along with all the major cable news channels, including CNN.

Veteran ABC anchor Ted Koppel, speaking with The New York Times, said Trump deserved the "benefit of the doubt."

Many Democratic political pros and other Trump opponents disagreed.

Trump's narrative about the southern border "really is fiction. That's the problem for putting this on the air," former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said on CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.

"The networks, I hope, yesterday struggled with the decision to put this on, because he consistently hasn't told the truth. Someone's got to fact-check that," Lockhart said.

Tuesday's prime time speech follows several other on-camera pitches for a border wall in the last week, including a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room and a 90-minute Cabinet meeting that the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler called a "fact-checking nightmare." These recent television appearances have sparked debate about whether networks should air Trump's remarks in real-time.

Seth Meyers, the host of "Late Night" on NBC, took a position about this on his show Monday night.

"Just because Trump wants to address the nation doesn't mean networks should air it. Otherwise, they're just passing on his lies unfiltered," Meyers said.

Then came his joke: "They should either reject him outright, or if he insists on speaking in prime time, make him do it as a contestant on 'The Masked Singer,'" referencing the new singing competition show on Fox.

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer released a joint statement on Monday evening calling for equal air time.

"Now that the television networks have decided to air the President's address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime," they wrote.

As of Tuesday morning, all the major cable and broadcast networks have confirmed that they will carry the Democratic speech.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 16769

Reported Deaths: 803
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds110426
Madison77829
Lauderdale76569
Neshoba73945
Jones70933
Scott66312
Forrest60039
DeSoto59310
Rankin4639
Leake45512
Holmes44431
Copiah3344
Jackson31415
Attala31218
Yazoo2985
Newton2924
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Leflore28238
Lincoln28131
Wayne2803
Monroe26925
Harrison2687
Lamar2525
Lowndes2529
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20416
Warren19910
Washington1998
Lee1978
Noxubee1956
Covington1832
Bolivar16911
Jasper1684
Clarke15619
Smith15611
Lafayette1564
Kemper15611
Chickasaw14314
Coahoma1324
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1165
Yalobusha1116
Grenada1104
Lawrence1071
Simpson1050
Sunflower963
Tate931
Hancock9012
Marshall893
Union897
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Montgomery841
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Tippah7611
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Humphreys647
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Choctaw522
Perry513
Pontotoc493
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie311
Greene301
George302
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19387

Reported Deaths: 676
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2341123
Jefferson1927105
Montgomery190544
Tuscaloosa85316
Marshall7149
Franklin5939
Lee56334
Shelby53619
Tallapoosa43566
Butler43121
Walker3973
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Chambers36326
Madison3594
Unassigned3144
Morgan3141
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Dallas2963
Lowndes26912
Etowah26512
DeKalb2603
Autauga2485
Coffee2401
Sumter2369
Houston2275
Pike2231
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Colbert1972
Hale19210
Russell1870
Barbour1831
Marengo1796
Lauderdale1752
Calhoun1693
Cullman1631
Wilcox1587
Choctaw15310
Clarke1492
St. Clair1372
Randolph1288
Dale1250
Marion12511
Talladega1215
Pickens1215
Limestone1100
Chilton1081
Greene955
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Winston920
Jackson863
Henry842
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Washington746
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