Donald Trump does not control the major television networks; ABC, Fox, NBC, and CBS are not part of the government. So while it’s customary for networks to allow the president airtime to address the nation about major crises, they have the choice not to. It makes sense, in many contexts, like making pronouncements of war or speaking after a tragedy or disaster in which the government’s course of action is unknown.
This isn’t one of those situations.
We know what he’s likely going to say, which means that the choice most major networks are weighing right now is between doing what is right and doing what will make them money. You can see where this is going.
It remains unclear just which, if any, networks will carry the speech live, but there’s absolutely no journalistic reason to do so. (While not a major broadcast network, the Daily Beast reported that CNN said they will carry the speech live.) The networks know Trump is going to keep lying about the situation at the border to make the case for a border wall, just as the White House has already been doing. One unnamed TV exec (wrongly) framed the situation as a no-win in a text to CNN’s Brian Stelter:
Trump loves being on TV (remember his batshit 60 Minutes appearance?) and giving him unobstructed primetime air to say whatever he wants is giving him a blank check to push his agenda. There is also precedent for networks declining to carry a presidential address live: In 2014, most major networks chose not to break into such favorites as The Big Bang Theory and Bones to carry Obama’s speech about immigration policy, using the excuse that it was “overtly political.” Nothing about Trump’s stance on immigration is nonpartisan, and it sure as hell isn’t a national security crisis.
Broadcasting Trump live is a shot at a ratings bump. We’ll see who takes the money and runs.
Update, Jan. 8, 9:29 a.m. ET: Surprise, surprise: All of the major networks will be carrying Trump’s speech live tonight at 9 pm. ET, along with CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, CNN reported. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer demanded equal airtime for the Democrats to respond.