Oftentimes, the three major cable news channels — Fox News, CNN and MSNBC — find themselves doing live coverage of the same events at the same time: White House press briefings, law-enforcement briefings after mass shootings, hurricanes. And so on.
Not presidential addresses, at least in the late months of 2018.
President Trump appeared in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday afternoon to make some proclamations about immigration. It was the same old talking points: There’s a “crisis” on the southern border, thanks to the caravans moving northward from Central America. “Illegal immigration costs our country billions and billions of dollars a year. . . . We will not allow our generosity to be abused by those who would break our laws, defy our rules, violate our borders, break into our country illegally. We won’t allow it,” he said.
On the caravan: “Some people call it an invasion. It’s like an invasion. . . . These are tough people in many cases, a lot of young men, strong men.”
So what’s the news? Well, that requires some sorting.
That sorting simply cannot take place at the same time as Trump delivers fear and lies, an impossibility that MSNBC fully recognized with its coverage plan. On her show, “Deadline: White House,” host Nicolle Wallace plowed ahead with the news of the day — Oprah Winfrey and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, for example. Meanwhile, Trump scared the country live on CNN and Fox News — both of which carried the whole shebang as it unfurled.
When CNN’s coverage concluded, host Jake Tapper went directly to the pressing task of correcting what people had just heard. “Just a few fact-checks and, honestly, I could spend three hours doing this. But just a few items here: First of all, the president said that asylum seekers, once they’re picked up, they never show up in court. And then he said something about 3 percent of them show up in court. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 76 percent of people who are picked up and given a court date do show up to court. . . . so that was false. He talked about how there were an estimated 20 million . . . undocumented immigrants in this country. Actually, according to his own administration, the number is about 12 million. He said they had started building the wall. No. If you’re talking about the concrete wall the president talked about on the campaign trail, no, they have not started building the wall. . . . He said Republicans were in unison when it comes to the issue of immigration. Actually, that’s not true. . . . He had this whole thing about how the child separation policy that he got in so much hot water over was a continuation of the Obama policy and then they ended it. That’s not actually what happened. . . . The Obama administration and the Bush administration had policies where children could be separated from their parents — it did happen. But then the Trump administration gave orders to exacerbate that policy, make it worse and that’s why there was the controversy that there was, that was ultimately reversed,” said Tapper.
He continued: “Those are just a few, a small number of the issues the president said, talking about this, that were not correct. There are many more, and I’m sure fact-checkers are going to be hard at work, burning the midnight oil.”
Over on Fox News, host Neil Cavuto broke down the implications of what Trump was saying: “All right, the president making very clear in a sweeping series of remarks here that these caravans, up to four right now, that are coming to our border — he says they’re not welcome here, they’re not legitimate asylum seekers.”
MSNBC, meanwhile, circled back to the address once it had digested it. You know, like a news organization might do.
It doesn’t matter whether the issue is immigration or taxes or trade. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a week from the midterms or a year from the midterms. It doesn’t matter whether Trump is speaking at a rally or in the quiet dignity of the Roosevelt Room. The president’s relish for lies is unchanged, and live television is absolutely no match for the fury with which his falsehoods tumble forth.
So there’s no excuse for any U.S. television network to take his appearances live, at any time. The question now is: Which network will be the first to declare that it will not provide a live airing of next year’s State of the Union address?