Speed Reads

History Lesson

The major TV networks are airing Trump's prime-time border speech. In 2014, they deemed Obama's address too 'overtly political' to broadcast.

Despite some misgivings, the major American TV networks — NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox — are broadcasting President Trump's prime-time Oval Office address on what he's calling a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump is expected to make his case for declaring a national emergency that could allow him to start building his border wall, despite constitutional concerns. There's also trepidation he will repeat falsehoods he and his aides have been telling. "My network will be carrying Trump's Wall speech live," Stephen Colbert joked. "So at 9 p.m. Tuesday, tune into CBS to See B.S."

In November 2014, President Barack Obama asked the networks to broadcast his own prime-time immigration speech from the White House, focusing on what would become the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The networks said no, though some individual affiliates did carry Obama's speech live. Obama was butting into sweeps week, but also "there was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political," a network insider told Politico at the time. "The White House has tried to make a comparison to a time that all the networks carried President Bush in prime time [in 2006], also related to immigration. But that was a bipartisan announcement, and this is an overtly political move by the White House."

"This turnabout where George W. Bush gets free airtime to promote his immigration idea but then Obama doesn't get free airtime for his ideas because it's 'overtly political,' and then Trump gets free airtime for an overtly political message on immigration, is striking," Matthew Yglesias says at Vox. "It's particularly striking because, in this case, this mismatch is partisan rather than ideological — Bush and Obama had broadly similar approaches to immigration while Trump has a different one." In 2014, The Washington Post's Jaime Fuller suggested that relatively few people would've watched Obama's address even if it were broadcast on all the networks. The same may be true of Trump's speech.