President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he was going to deliver a primetime address to the country to discuss the government shutdown and what he described as a “National Security crisis on our Southern Border.” The address is scheduled for 9 PM Eastern Time on Tuesday.
I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border. Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2019
The president will follow this speech by traveling to the border later in the week as he tries to persuade the American public that funding for a border wall is absolutely necessary. Currently, the federal government is in Day 17 of a partial shutdown as Democrats and Trump are at an impasse over wall funding after the president rejected a short-term spending bill that the White House previously said it would sign. (This is, before conservative media began swiping at Trump for caving on the wall.)
Considering the obvious partisan nature of the Oval Office address, the president’s seemingly non-existent relationship with the truth, and the fact that he will be delivering the State of the Union in three weeks, the question on Monday was whether broadcast networks would carry Trump’s speech live.
On Monday afternoon, the four big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX — confirmed that the White House had requested time in primetime, but as of publication, none of them had confirmed that they would definitely carry it.
A source told Contemptor that CBS News was “considering” carrying the address and that the White House had requested time. Other networks told us that they hadn’t made a decision yet but would let us know once they’ve decided.
CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter reported that the “networks are deliberating” and also provided a text from one TV news executive that revealed the dilemma the broadcast newsrooms believe they are facing.
TV exec texts: "He calls us fake news all the time, but needs access to airwaves… If we give him the time, he'll deliver a fact-free screed without rebuttal. And if we don't give him the time, he'll call every network partisan. So we are damned if we do and damned if we don't."
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 7, 2019
“He calls us fake news all the time, but needs access to airwaves,” the exec told Stelter. “If we give him the time, he’ll deliver a fact-free screed without rebuttal. And if we don’t give him the time, he’ll call every network partisan. So we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
Besides reaching out to the broadcast networks, we also requested comment from the three major cable news channels — CNN, Fox News, MSNBC — regarding the primetime address. Both CNN and Fox News have confirmed they plan to air the speech live. Meanwhile, MSNBC did not immediately confirm their plans, with a network spokesperson telling Contemptor “our coverage plans are still being discussed. We’ll have more later” before eventually confirming that the network will air it. During the increasingly rare White House press briefings, MSNBC has recently taken to the strategy of monitoring the presser and airing regular programming rather than carrying it uninterrupted.
Still, it would be fairly odd for cable news not to air a president’s primetime address delivered from the White House, even if broadcast TV elects to pass and cable channels have been recently debating on how to treat Trump’s live remarks.
Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be without precedent if the networks decide not to air Trump’s speech. As Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler noted, all four broadcast networks refused to air President Barack Obama’s 2014 primetime speech when he proposed to sign executive orders to address immigration issues.
Of note: All four networks refused Obama's request to air a prime-time address on proposed executive actions related to immigration in 2014; it just ran on cable. https://t.co/Vcm5IwcPZT
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) January 7, 2019
The cable news channels did run the speech that year.
UPDATE: A CBS spokesperson provided Contemptor with the following statement regarding the network’s decision to carry the address:
“CBS will take the President’s address to the nation tomorrow night. The address will start at 9:01:30 and will run no longer than 8 minutes, according to the White House. The topic will be the partial government shutdown, the crises on the border and the midnight deadline for federal paychecks.
The Special Report will be anchored in NY by Jeff Glor.
Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes will be available from DC.
Ed O’Keefe will be available in NY.”
FOX also confirmed to Contemptor that the network would carry the speech while Stelter reported ABC and NBC were planning on broadcasting the address live.