Critics warned the major broadcast and cable news networks that if they turned over their airwaves to President Donald Trump for a speech he wanted to give on the purported “Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border,” they would inevitably be participating in a White House disinformation campaign. Every single one of them did it anyway, deciding as a herd that the traditional deference to any president who asks for time to address the nation outweighed concerns about this particular president’s unique and abnormal willingness to lie.
The critics were right.
Over the course of the overtly political nine-minute speech on Tuesday night, Trump sought to convince the public of a nonexistent emergency to justify the partial government shutdown he started to create leverage to build his long-sought border wall. In a humiliating turn for the networks, the president broke no news, instead using the opportunity to reiterate the same immigration talking points he’s been pushing for years. And by breaking into regular programming to air what was effectively his regular stump speech, they all implicitly validated his claim of a crisis.
The president made his case by deploying a series of falsehoods, misstatements, and outright lies. This was predictable -- Trump lies constantly, particularly on immigration, and repeats those lies so frequently that The Washington Post put together a prebuttal running down 20 possible false claims that might come up during the speech.
But the networks gave him the time anyway, with the full understanding that he would lie to their audiences.
Meanwhile, journalists on Twitter debunked the president’s claims in real time.
While some critics had hoped that the networks would scrutinize the speech in real time and debunk the president’s lies with on-screen captions, in the end, none of them did it.
But the fact-checking came too late for any viewers who turned off their televisions after the president stopped speaking. The networks gave the White House exactly what the president wanted: unhindered access to lie to their audience. He played them, and they let him do it.