In 2014, The Networks Denied President Obama A Primetime Address On Immigration

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Public Domain

When President Obama asked networks to air his address on immigration, they said no, because it was "overtly political."

As President Donald Trump prepares to address the nation Tuesday night regarding the so-called immigration crisis at the U.S. southern border, news networks are planning to put his speech on air — thereby opening Americans to the usual falsehoods and misinformation Trump spews regarding immigration and his border wall.

But interestingly, Vox noted that when former President Barack Obama approached networks in 2014 about airing a primetime address he intended to give on his own immigration plans, they all declined on the grounds it was “overtly political.”

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

Based on this rationale, airing Trump’s speech makes no sense: the president is going to lie about a crisis at the border in service of either increasing support for his $5 billion demand for the wall, declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress on the funding, or both.

And yet, the networks will air his speech.

Likewise, former President George W. Bush was afforded a primetime slot to address the nation regarding immigration policy in 2006.

Is this a case of “one of these things is not like the others?” Vox says yes.

It’s particularly striking because, in this case, this mismatch is partisan rather than ideological — Bush and Obama had broadly similar approaches to immigration while Trump has a different one.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the systematic partisan imbalance in Sunday show bookings. Typically, when Republicans are in power, we’re told we get GOP-heavy guest lists to reflect what newsmakers are thinking. But when Democrats are in power, we’re told we get GOP-heavy guest lists to provide a counterpoint to officeholders. (This week, ABC greeted the new Congress by hosting a losing Republican Senate candidate from Michigan.)

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