President Obama is set to deliver a high-stakes, much-anticipated primetime address to the nation Thursday at 8pm, at which he will announce his executive actions on immigration. That issue figures to directly affect the lives of several million Americans, and may touch off a political firestorm which could result in lawsuits, government shutdowns, and even impeachment. With all that said, broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC have decided that they will not air that speech tonight. Let the excuse-making begin:
[CNN’s Brian] Stelter reported that White House officials decided against formally requesting that the major networks carry the address after getting the impression that they would be hesitant to do so, reports echoed by Deadline and The Hill. November is sweeps month, when primetime slots become all the more valuable. The four major networks have shows slotted for 8 p.m. that attract big audiences, including the fall finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC, Deadline noted.
The White House did not have any additional comment for The Daily Banter, but neither they, nor any White House reporter, nor anyone in the news business, can be very happy with this decision. The networks’ excuses don’t really wash when you consider that ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News all covered President George W. Bush’s May 15, 2006 primetime speech on immigration, although cable viewers were treated to this bit of memorable bonus footage:
Their sweeps excuse doesn’t wash, because May is, of course, also a sweeps period, There was even an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on that night. President Bush’s speech ran 18 minutes, while President Obama is only expected to speak for about 10 minutes tonight. From a news perspective, the contrast couldn’t be any greater, but might also carry a clue as to why this speech is being given the short end of the stick.
Bush’s speech was about deploying 6,000 National Guard troops to the border as part of a broader border enforcement plan. Obama’s, as I mentioned, carries with it a substantive and political import that dwarf’s Bush’s.
It’s possible that Obama is being treated differently from Bush For Whatever Reason™, or that the people whom these speeches presumably interest are being treated differently For Whatever Reason™, or both. The five million or so undocumented immigrants who figure to be helped by the President’s actions, and their millions of family members, can still watch the speech on heavily-viewed Spanish-language network Univision, which will pre-empt a portion of the Latin Grammys for the speech, but the broader American public will have to squeeze into the relatively tiny audiences of cable news networks. For Whatever Reason™.
Whatever the reason, this is a complete abdication of the broadcast networks’ unique duty to serve the public, a duty which has been eroding for decades. People who already want to see the speech will know where to find it, but it is a longstanding privilege of the presidency to command the attention of all of the American people who have access to the public airwaves, no matter what language they speak, or who that president is.