Tuesday, January 8, 2019

WHY THE NETWORKS SHOULD AIR PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ADDRESS

There's been lots of discussion and contention about President Trump's prime time address set for tonight, in which he plans to make his case for a border wall and the $5.7 billion he is requesting to build it. 

Should the major networks carry the address? As usual, it should be up to them to decide what their viewers want and need, and to the news departments to judge the validity of such an event.

Critics are saying this gives the president a place to lie, as he often does in public speeches. But his speech on a very newsy and controversial topic is, well, news. So much bickering and partisan views these days often creep into not only news coverage, but editorial decisions. This requires more and more that valid observations remain the most important guide.

The networks could choose not to broadcast the event and allow the cable news stations and other outlets -- including radio and online sites -- to provide coverage. No matter what the networks do, Trump's speech will be available in almost every case.

But to say the event is not news simply because the president is such a dishonest person misses the point. He is the president and what he does is news. One could argue that this address is more newsworthy than many of his tweets, which are always reported.

In both cases, they are news because of who is involved. The president simply by virtue of his position and power makes news with most of what he does. And his comments and arguments about such a controversial and divisive issue make it even more so. 

Some who oppose the networks broadcasting the speech point to a 2014 address by President Barack Obama on a similar issue, immigration, which was not carried by the main networks. A Washington Post story at the time pointed out that it was somewhat different in that it occurred during the coveted "sweeps" weeks and many thought ratings for Obama would be below those for The Big Bang Theory or Grey's Anatomy. 

"Presidential sweeps don't always ensure the exciting cliffhangers and plot twists that networks are looking for," The Post stated. But it also pointed out that many affiliates did carry the speech on their own, which drew some complaints that the regular programming was interrupted, adding "Some people were elated, while others reacted exactly as networks feared."

But one could argue that a Trump address on the border wall today will draw much higher ratings than an Obama speech on immigration four years ago. In the end, that is what many networks most want. Sure, there is a cynicism and downright greed involved in putting Trump out there because he is a ratings grab.

TV networks have no shame in putting out garbage that they know will bring viewers. Just last night the season premiere of The Bachelor filled three hours with embarrassing and vomit-making pseudo-drama that drew the expected large audience.

Still, there is an editorial reason behind the speech being shown. As stated earlier, he is the president and what he does is news, especially on such an important issue.

But it's also up to the networks and all of those who cover the speech to point out any and all inaccuracies and outright lies. Have the fact-checking systems in place that have served well since Trump's first presidential campaign announcement and put them to work. 

The public needs to see what their president says and does, but also receive clear, accurate information about what may not be true in his claims and why it affects them.