Will Television Networks Cut Away From Trump's Border Speech?
Media prognosticators and veterans don't think the networks will ditch the speech or fact-check errors or claims onscreen. The nets won't say if they will.
President Donald Trump will make his first Oval Office address on Tuesday night, and the nation's biggest broadcast and cable news networks have all decided to carry the speech, which the White House has promised will focus on immigration, border security and the government shutdown.
But, with a president known for his mendacity, will the networks take actions to counter any factual errors Trump might make when arguing for his $5.7 billion border wall? If so, what would such an in-the-moment response even look like?
The networks are unlikely to cut away from the president during the speech, no matter what happens, said CNN contributor Joe Lockhart and former CNN bureau chief Frank Sesno.
"Once they're on, they'll be locked in," Lockhart, a former White House press secretary, told The Hollywood Reporter. "They do have options on the lower-third of the screen. I don't think they will use them." ("There's only so much you can do with a bar on the bottom of the screen," one television company spokesperson said.)
Representatives for the major broadcast networks, as well as CNN, either ignored questions or declined comment on whether they might cut away from Trump's speech if it goes off the rails or strays from the topics the White House said it will cover.
Sesno also doubts that CNN will attempt to fact-check the speech in real time, as many have suggested. "They'll almost certainly give him his time to say his piece, then give the Democrats their time," he said. "I would imagine all networks will also have panels/fact-checkers/experts on hand to deconstruct Trump's (and the Democrats') comments."
Charlie Sykes, an MSNBC contributor and Never Trump Republican, floated the idea of airing the speech on a 10-minute delay, giving the networks time to mine the address for newsy nuggets and fact-check some of the president's claims.
"Since Trump has rewritten the rules, the networks should, too," he said. "The president isn't entitled to free air time. He needs to earn it. And, since he's abused it so many times, he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt."
With congressional Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer set to deliver a response to Trump's speech, which the networks will also air, the evening is shaping up to be another much-watch installment in a reality television presidency. "It'll be quite a show," Sesno said.
There also will be counterprogramming. "If you're looking for anything even remotely worth watching tonight at 9pm EST, I will be folding laundry in my underwear for 8 minutes on Instagram live," Trump accuser and foil Stormy Daniels tweeted Tuesday afternoon.