Mainstream media outlets didn’t wait for President Trump to deliver his speech on border security to a nationwide audience on Tuesday night. They got started on the bias early.
“Tonight: Primetime Poison From The Oval Office,” read the main headline on HuffPost. It referred to a story – “All Major Networks to Air Trump’s Address On The Border Wall” – subhead: “The address on Tuesday will come in the midst of a partial government shutdown that has stretched into its third week” – by Nick Visser.
It pointed out networks could lose millions of dollars in ad spots during the speech and that Barack Obama was denied live coverage of a speech on immigration in 2014, only to have it shown on tape delay. This would be a good idea for Trump’s speech, Visser insisted, because Trump lies.
“Some questioned why major networks wouldn’t use tape delay for Trump’s address in order to counter his persistent falsehoods about the border,” Visser wrote.
The Washington Post has far more ambitious ideas about how the speech should be covered.
With his background in reality TV and comfort speaking on screen and in prime time, the speech “will find him squarely within his comfort zone,” wrote Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Post in “‘The president lies daily’: Critics demand networks fact-check Trump’s live immigration speech.”
“The networks that have agreed to carry his remarks on immigration and his demands for a wall at the southern border won’t have it so easy.
“They are in uncharted waters, not because Trump is the first president to request airtime for a major address. But because ‘Trump is unlike any president that the country has ever had in the sense that he frequently and routinely says things that are untrue,’ said Mike Ananny, an expert on media and technology at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.”
The problem for television networks and affiliated local stations, Stanley-Becker wrote, is they aim “to fulfill their ‘role as first informers,’” as a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters described their function to the Washington Post.
“At the same time, these outlets are under mounting pressure not to propagate the president’s false statements, which have proliferated amid his standoff with congressional Democrats over wall funding and the partial government shutdown.”
It then quotes Ananny again: “The challenge that the media faces is you don’t want to give a platform to somebody who is known to lie a lot, but at the same time, this is still the president of the United States, who has a lot of power and continues to use that power. The challenge the press has is to call the president out for what I expect will be the lies he will tell, because he tells them all the time, and to call them out in real time.”
Stanley-Becker said networks could insist on an advance copy of the speech or broadcast it on delay to allow for “on-the-spot fact-checking … rather than just giving Trump a pass in wall-to-wall coverage.” He pointed to CNN’s use of a “Facts First” box in the corner of the screen that was used once during a Sarah Sanders news conference.
But he unwittingly exposed the problem with this plan in a later paragraph.
“The dilemma is especially acute as the news media suffers from dwindling public confidence, a trend affecting many major American institutions,” Stanley-Becker wrote.
And this is made worse by the media’s tendency to favor Trump in its coverage. “On the left, the dissatisfaction is driven in large part by the way the industry dealt with Trump’s provocative entrance on the political scene more than three years ago – and the perception that outlets have continued to give him too much oxygen.”
Support is growing for a delay of five to 30 minutes to allow for fact-checking, the Post reported. Connie Schultz, a syndicated columnist and wife of far-left Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, “endorsed the proposal, suggesting the media’s legitimacy was at stake.”