On Tuesday night, anyone who turns their tv to a major network or a cable news outlet will be treated to this:
I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border. Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2019
According to Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs, the speech will be ubiquitous:
The networks have agreed to air Trump's prime time Oval Office address. https://t.co/po17UihttW— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) January 7, 2019
At the moment, there doesn't seem to be widespread confirmation that Jacobs is right, and that the major networks will air his address. Some sources claim they're still deliberating.
UPDATE: Jacobs has deleted her tweet. As of now, Fox is the only major network to agree to air the speech. The rest are still deliberating.
The latest – CNN, Fox, Fox Biz have agreed to air Trump. Broadcast nets still deciding https://t.co/rx5bxVZISt— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 7, 2019
So: It goes without saying that the address will be rife with fearmongering and lies as he tries to sway public opinion against Democrats and get Congress to pay for a border wall. In one way, it's a desperation move—the government shutdown drags on, and for once Democrats have refused to capitulate on the wall, so Trump is trying to avoid a humiliating retreat with every tool at his disposal. But of course, media manipulation by way of performance is his biggest and greatest tool, and it's tough to judge what the impact will be. At the very least, we can safely guess that the various fact checks that follow will inevitably have no impact on how he's received.
The larger question: Should the networks be airing this? Clearly this is the domain of cable news, and it's hard to take issue when they show the president's speech. But for the networks, this means pre-empting other programming, which implicitly telegraphs to the American people that Trump's address is important. Will they give an equal response to a Democrat following the speech, as we see at the State of the Union?
They face a conundrum of their own, per CNN's Brian Stelter:
TV exec texts: "He calls us fake news all the time, but needs access to airwaves… If we give him the time, he'll deliver a fact-free screed without rebuttal. And if we don't give him the time, he'll call every network partisan. So we are damned if we do and damned if we don't."— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 7, 2019
From the Times:
In the recent past, White House requests to interrupt prime-time programming on the nation’s broadcast networks were rare and usually reserved for moments of national import, like the death of Osama bin Laden, and networks usually granted the requests. There have been instances, however, where such requests were rejected by producers as insufficiently newsworthy.
By those standards, it’s hard to see Trump’s address as “newsworthy,” any more than it was “newsworthy” when he sent troops to the border as a political stunt, only to withdraw them after the election. And the idea that the scene at our southern border is any more of a “humanitarian crisis” than ever before doesn’t stand up to the facts, unless Trump is referring to the humanitarian crisis caused by his own administration (hint: he’s not).
As of today, the current shutdown is the second longest in U.S. history, and stands at an impasse: Trump won’t end it without funding for a border wall, and House Democrats adamantly won’t fund a border wall. Trump is trying to break that impasse not by negotiation, but by force, and whether he succeeds or not, it appears the major networks are handing him his platform.