Prime Time Bush

It used to be that when the president notified the media that he was going to make a speech to the American people, the major television networks listened. They would immediately clear their schedules and make room for the commander-in-chief. Oh the times, the are a changin. Nowadays, the big man has to compete with the likes of the ‘Average Joe’.

Three of the four broadcast networks had yet to decide late Monday whether they would carry President Bush’s speech on Iraq Tuesday in front of soldiers in Fort Bragg, N.C. By then, only ABC had said it would carry the address.

The White House formally requested an hour of primetime at 8 p.m. ET for Bush’s speech at a time when public opinion polls show the tide turning against the war in Iraq. While there was no question that the cable news channels would cover the president’s address, the broadcast networks were a tougher sell.

CBS, NBC and Fox all said they would decide sometime Tuesday whether to carry the speech. Concerns centered on the potential newsworthiness of the speech and the fact that it was being given not in the Oval Office but far from Washington.

“You want to be certain you are broadcasting something that is newsworthy and vitally important to the American people,” said one network executive who asked not to be identified.

The networks, unconvinced in initial talks with the White House late last week that the speech would be newsworthy, asked for more information. Sources said a conference call was held at 12:30 p.m. ET with officials from the Bush administration and the networks’ Washington bureau chiefs.

But that might not be the only reason for the networks’ holdout. While CBS was in repeats at 8 p.m., NBC was faced with the possibility of having to pre-empt or reschedule the heavily promoted original reality series “Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back.”

Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said Monday that it was a tough decision for the network bosses.

“On the one hand, they recognize if the president actually is going to make substantial news on Iraq, they probably should cover it,” Sabato said. “But on the other hand, they realize this White House is famous for constructing political rallies and convincing the networks to cover them with the sole beneficiary being the president, not the American people.”

Sabato is right. This cynical behavior on the part of the TV networks isn’t bias. It’s the fault of the White House, and politics in general. Politicians have cried wolf too often, and have duped the media into covering ‘news’ under false pretences.

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