Broadcast networks should not turn over their airwaves so the president can lie to the public

Update: But they're going to do it anyway

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Update (1/7/19, 7:15 p.m.): ABC, CBS, Fox broadcast, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC will all reportedly carry Trump's speech live.

President Donald Trump wants the broadcast networks to interrupt their regularly scheduled prime-time programming on Tuesday and let him address the nation on the government shutdown he started as leverage to get funding for a wall on the U.S. southern border. The networks should reject his request rather than aiding what will assuredly be a fact-free disinformation campaign.

The New York Times reported Monday afternoon that the White House has asked the broadcast networks for time to speak the next evening. Shortly after, Trump tweeted that he would be speaking about “the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border” at 9 p.m. EST. According to the Times’ Michael Grynbaum, “At least TWO major networks [are] still deliberating” because there is “skepticism about handing over airwaves for political statement.”

The networks are right to hesitate.

Everyone knows that the president is a liar. He lies all the time, on matters large and small, at a rate and scope far beyond that of any politician in recent memory.

Over the course of his presidency, Trump has lied with increasing frequency. In recent weeks, his lies have become more bizarre and brazen.

Just last week, fact-checkers tore apart a presidential press conference that centered on the shutdown and the wall -- the very issues the White House now wants network airtime to discuss.

If the networks turn over their airwaves to the president on Tuesday, he will lie to their audiences, plain and simple. The public will be better informed about the shutdown and the border if they instead spend their evening watching Ellen’s Game of Games on NBC.

The networks can help the White House roll out its disinformation campaign, or they can reject it.

The choice is theirs.

Update (1/7/19, 2:52 p.m.): 

The three major cable news networks also face a decision on whether to air Trump's address. According to Politico media reporter Michael Calderone, CNN has already agreed to air it.

As they deliberate, news executives -- who seem to be aware that the president will likely lie to their audiences if given the opportunity -- are considering the possible fallout that could come if they reject a president who regularly wages war on the press

This is foolish. There is literally nothing journalists can do to prevent Trump from calling them partisan -- and thus, there's no reason to let that sway their judgments. Just this morning,Trump levied a series of attacks on the press: 

Whether the networks bow to his will or not, Trump will soon lash out at them again.