The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Collusion! Networks miraculously come to same conclusion on Trump speech.

President Trump declared a national emergency to fund his border wall. Here are some of the challenges that could crop up to block his declaration. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In November 2014, President Barack Obama was preparing an address on immigration. It was after the midterms. The White House wanted prime-time coverage on the major broadcast networks. They declined to air it.

In January 2019, President Trump is preparing an address on immigration. It is after the midterms. The White House wants prime-time coverage on the major broadcast networks. It’s getting what it wants: NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox broadcast network and all three major cable-news networks — MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — will be airing the eight-minute, 9 p.m. address live.

There are many compelling arguments against this decision, and the Erik Wemple Blog has advanced them on several occasions. The gist of it is that Trump has in the past deployed trickery to secure live coverage of his falsehood-riddled political infomercials. Why reward that behavior while at the same time saddling network anchors and correspondents with the unenviable job of tracking down and correcting the likely falsehoods before returning to regularly scheduled entertainment programming?

Though it’s important to note the minefield that the networks are approaching, it’s never a good idea to prejudge a segment, program or even a televised address. Perhaps the networks will handle the event with agility and integrity. Perhaps this will be the moment that a new paradigm for live coverage of Trump will emerge. Perhaps the president will upend decades of precedent by telling the truth.

And perhaps Fox News will introduce Barack Obama as its newest contributor.

What strikes the Erik Wemple Blog is the unanimity. After the White House made its request on Monday, there were a few hours in which the major broadcast networks were discussing the matter. And then, one by one, they all fell in line, despite the compelling arguments to avoid the pitfalls of live Trump coverage. Likewise in 2014, those four major broadcast networks all made the opposite decision. If ever there was a case for collusion!

We’ve asked ABC, NBC and CBS to outline their thinking behind the decision. We have received nothing on the record.

Top congressional Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer want a rebuttal window: “Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” said the two politicians in a joint statement. At this rate, Tuesday night’s events may just put the State of the Union — scheduled for Jan. 29 — out of business.

NBC, CBS and CNN will be carrying the Democratic response, with more likely to follow.

As noted earlier in this space, the networks commonly press the White House for hints and details about what speeches of this sort will say. Will we be left talking, again, about the president’s ability to pull political stunts? How will it differ from that previous propaganda appearance that Trump made in the White House briefing room? Is the president going to announce a national emergency to fund the border wall? Will there be news?

More than any president in memory, Trump is apt to say yes to that last question just to secure the wide-ranging coverage that he craves. Television continues running the United States of America.

Read more:

Carter Eskew: Free airtime for Trump? Not so fast.

Tom Toles: The gatekeepers of the media keep the gates except when they issue Republicans a free pass

Greg Sargent: Trump wants the networks to carry his speech live. They should look at these charts of his lies.

Erik Wemple: Who wants to broadcast Trump’s border ‘crisis’ speech?