NEW YORK >> Television networks are facing unusual pressure surrounding their responsibility to point out false or misleading statements after granting President Donald Trump’s request to air his Oval Office speech on the proposed border wall and partial government shutdown.
The four largest broadcast networks and top cable news networks agreed to carry Trump’s speech and the Democratic response, which will be offered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
It’s rare, but not unprecedented, for networks to say no to a presidential request for airtime. Some of the president’s opponents had argued that Trump shouldn’t get the airtime because he couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth.
Television executives were talking internally about ways to fact-check Trump, such as dedicating staff to parse statements the way it is often done after a presidential address, to the more extreme approach of pointing out through chyrons, or text displayed on the air, in the event of a verifiable false statement.
NBC said it would fact-check livestreams of both speeches through pinned comments on its Facebook page and through comments on the NBC and MSNBC Twitter accounts. Fact checks will also be featured prominently on the NBC News home page, the network said.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen said on social media Tuesday that network officials should be asking themselves how likely it is that the speech will inform viewers, and how they can prevent the president from misinforming viewers.
Late-night hosts were even getting in on the criticism, with CBS’ Stephen Colbert noting on Twitter that “my network will be carrying Trump’s wall speech live. So at 9 p.m. Tuesday, tune in to CBS to see B.S.” NBC’s Seth Meyers aired a lengthy segment early Tuesday suggesting Trump’s speech not be televised.
A confrontation outside the White House today between presidential aide Kellyanne Conway and CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who was briefly banned from the White House last year before the Trump administration let him back in, illustrated the tension.
“Can you promise that the president will tell the truth tonight?” Acosta asked Conway. “Will he tell the truth?”
Responded Conway: “Yes, Jim. And can you promise that you will?”
Acosta asked Conway to guarantee the president’s speech will pass a fact check.
“Let me get back in your face, ‘cause you’re such a smart ass most of the time and I know you want this to go viral,” Conway said. She suggested that CNN has made corrections of its own work.
Portions of the confrontation were later aired on CNN.
During an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” today, White House correspondent Jonathan Karl similarly pressed Vice President Mike Pence on whether Trump should be trusted. He pointed to recent statements Trump had made about a supposed wall around former President Barack Obama’s house in Washington, and how Trump had said some former presidents had confided in him they should have built a border wall — a contention all four living ex-presidents have denied.
“How can the American people trust the president when he says this is a crisis when he says over and over again things that are not true?” Karl asked.
Pence didn’t specifically address Trump’s statements, but pressed the administration’s case for seeking funding for the wall.
In a widely publicized exchange from over the weekend, Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on statistics she used to argue for the wall.