As the federal government enters the third week of a partial shutdown, President Donald Trump is slated to deliver an address on immigration. But with the shutdown directly tied to the border wall – Trump’s demand of $5.7 billion to fund his border wall has been met with resistance in Congress – many are, rightfully, concerned that Trump will use this speech to spew racist insults and misinformation. The speech will take place at 9 p.m. ET, and with many networks set to air the address, people are calling for real-time fact checking and criticizing the news channels for giving Trump a platform.
While networks air presidential addresses when the topic is of national importance, they’re not required to do so. As a matter of fact, in 2014, networks denied President Barack Obama airtime for his immigration address. “ABC, NBC, Fox, and CBS knew that their customers would not be happy if the President ate into time reserved for some of the most popular shows on television, including The Big Bang Theory and Bones,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. Some local affiliates did run the speech.
The 2014 speech took place during “sweeps” month, which partially affected the networks’ decision. (Some local affiliates did run the speech.) The other, according to Politico’s Playbook, was because Obama’s speech was “overtly political.” At the time, a bipartisan immigration reform bill had failed to pass, so Obama planned to announce his executive actions.
“There was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political,” an insider told Playbook at the time. “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.”
And yet this time around, all the major networks said they’d provide coverage of the speech. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have asked for equal time to respond. NBC, CNN, and CBS are some networks who have said they would give time to Democrats.) And this is particularly dangerous because it gives Trump the room to spread lies about immigrants in order to call for a border wall (which is also not bipartisan).
Journalists, public figures, and more have taken to Twitter to call for real-time fact checking, as well as other precautions.