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Why TV networks caving in to Trump is so much worse than you think

Keep in mind that airing a scheduled appearance by the president of the United States is actually bad for TV's bottom line, because the networks don't get to run scheduled commercials during an address. And these days, regularly scheduled entertainment shows are likely to draw bigger audiences than a national speech about immigration.

Yet despite the endless Trump taunts about journalists being the "enemy of the people," and despite the fact the networks have to take an economic hit, all four have agreed to air Trump uninterrupted Tuesday night.

This is despite the fact Trump hasn’t uttered one truthful statement about his racist border-security agenda or his beloved wall since the government shutdown began two weeks ago.

This sad episode only deepens fears that 2016’s failed campaign coverage is going to be resurrected during the 2020 White House run, as the press lets Trump’s pathological lying go largely unchallenged. (The New York Times newsroom still won't call Trump a "liar.") But here's why this week's back-and-forth over Trump TV airtime is so much worse than you might think.

In November 2014, President Barack Obama wanted to address the nation in prime time on network television, but the networks refused. Going on a hunch that Obama's address would be "overtly political," the networks refused to briefly hand over their prime time, even though Obama was going to announce taking executive action to deal with the pressing issue of immigration reform.

That 2014 snub followed a similar 2013 TV denial, when networks refused a White House request to carry a primetime address by Obama regarding the 7 million people who had signed up for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

But in terms of border-security addresses, we're seeing a dramatic double standard in terms of how the networks dealt with requests from Trump and Obama, who both asked for TV time to address immigration, right?

It actually gets worse.  

In 2006, President George W. Bush asked for—and received—prime TV time at night from networks so he could address the nation about … immigration. One "network insider" justified acquiescing to Bush because his primetime immigration address was "bipartisan."

False. The news Bush broke during his televised address was that he was sending National Guard troops to protect the southern border. That wasn't a "bipartisan" proposal: After the speech, Democratic governors from New Mexico and Oregon denounced Bush's plan.

But for those keeping score at home, the networks granted Bush TV time to discuss immigration in 2006; denied Obama TV time to discuss immigration in 2014; and are now granting Trump TV time to discuss immigration in 2019.

Double standards don't come much more pronounced than that. The message from the media is undeniable: Republicans matter  and Democrats don't.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.


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