March 30th, 2011

White House Gives In to Networks on Matter of National Importance

Media Post

Where have you gone Walter Cronkite? Time was, the White House would request networks give it a prime-time spot for a Presidential address—perhaps on a topic as critical as, say, launching missiles in a distant land to fight a dictator versed in terrorism and prevent genocide. Those requests were largely pro forma. ABC, CBS and NBC would say yes, no problem.

The trio could use the speech to provide exposure for their news operations. Maybe they also felt that, since they were on the public airwaves, providing the President with a chance to reach the most people was good public service.

No longer. Even a President promising to answer questions about a military initiative with an unclear national interest isn’t considered a bankable star. It’s not a sure bet a network will alter its schedule for the Commander in Chief and his commercial-free programming.

And the White House seems willing to play along.

The latest example came Monday with the President’s Libyan speech. ABC wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of having to preempt “Dancing with the Stars,” while the other networks weren’t keen on schedule changes either.

The White House apparently understood and negotiations with the networks resulted in the speech airing at 7:30 p.m., according to the New York Times. And as it turned out, networks actually gave up no air time for the address, instead nudging its affiliates to give up the ad revenue.

“The White House routinely works with the networks, as a group, in circumstances like these to find a time that’s respectful of both the networks and their audience – while ensuring that the President has the platform he needs to deliver an important message to the American people,” a White House spokesman told the Times.

Willingness to give the speech before prime time marks an extraordinary capitulation on the White House’s part. These days, many Americans on the East Coast aren’t even home from work at 7:30, while and out West are still locked in a cubicle, though they can watch on the Web.

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