President Donald Trump’s planned prime-time address on immigration Tuesday night has put the broadcast networks in a difficult — and familiar — position as they debate whether to carry the address live.
The White House has asked the broadcast networks to set aside at least eight minutes at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday for an Oval Office address in which Trump may declare a state of national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The four major networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox — have not had a consistent policy when it comes to airing presidential addresses on immigration.
They aired President George W. Bush’s prime-time address on immigration in 2006, but did not air one by President Barack Obama in 2014.
The networks are currently debating whether to air the Trump address, and if they do, they would probably grant Democrats an opportunity to respond, according to two sources familiar with the ongoing deliberations who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
There is no ideal outcome for the networks. Should they decide to carry the speech, they will receive widespread criticism from Democrats over their decision to pass on Obama’s speech.
Should they decline, the networks will forgo a potentially significant news event and bolster Trump's argument that the news media is biased against him.
That debate had already begun to play out on social media on Monday.
Jon Favreau, who worked under Obama as a speechwriter and now hosts an influential liberal politics podcast, noted the networks' previous choice not to air Obama's immigration speech.
"So this should be a relatively easy decision," he tweeted.
Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist, predicted that the networks would end up broadcasting Trump's address.
"If you listen carefully, you can hear network execs coming up with tortured, wholly unbelievable reasons for why they will air Trump’s speech tomorrow night when they deemed one from Obama too political and refused to carry," Parkhomenko tweeted.
The prospect that Trump will declare a national emergency complicates the situation, since the president could be announcing significant national news.
Networks and cable news operations have come under pressure to limit Trump's unfiltered messages, with critics and news fact-checkers asserting that the president routinely spreads falsehoods.