After President Donald Trump exploited the enormous free platform he was needlessly granted by America's major television networks Tuesday night to deliver an immigration address replete with the same disinformation and dehumanizing rhetoric he has deployed since stepping foot on the campaign trail, critics denounced the corporate media's continued role in amplifying Trump's speeches despite knowing they will be full of harmful lies.
"Great job, networks. You are complicit in amplifying this absurd display of destructive disinformation and demagoguery. You knew this was coming, but acquiesced."
—Greg Sargent, Washington Post
"Trump just launched his 2020 re-election campaign with, essentially, the same speech he used at Trump Tower in 2015, when he first ranted about Mexican rapists and murderers. And the media paid for it," wrote progressive radio host Thom Hartmann, capping off his tweet with the hashtag #Suckers.
As some critics accused the corporate networks of getting "played" by Trump into airing the primetime speech—particularly after they refused to carry a 2014 immigration address by former President Barack Obama—Vox's Matt Yglesias argued that media executives are not being duped at all.
Rather, Yglesias wrote on Twitter, they are acting in a way that advances their material self-interest by pursuing whatever is best for ratings.
"The view that rich powerful media executives continually get 'played' like this seems to me to be a seriously weak analysis of the situation. They derive concrete material benefits from Republican Party election wins," Yglesias noted.
The view that rich powerful media executives continually get “played” like this seems to me to be a seriously weak analysis of the situation.
They derive concrete material benefits from Republican Party election wins. https://t.co/NeOEeYGLtl
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 9, 2019
As many were quick to point out, Trump used his primetime address to fundraise for his 2020 reelection campaign, firing off at least two emails soliciting donations to his so-called "Official Secure the Border Fund."
"This was a campaign event disguised as a presidential message and the networks all fell for it," noted Andrew Lawrence, a senior researcher with Media Matters for America.
Trump just sent his SECOND fundraising email today asking for money based on his "speech"
This was a campaign event disguised as a presidential msg and the networks all fell for it pic.twitter.com/E5oEKpcQ2U
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) January 9, 2019
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent—who predicted with "near-certainty" that Trump would use his speech to spew hateful lies—condemned America's major television networks for carrying the president's "absurd display of destructive disinformation and demagoguery."
"You knew this was coming," Sargent wrote, "but acquiesced because Trump spent two years trying to destroy your profession's institutional role, perversely rewarding him for this."
Great job, networks. You are complicit in amplifying this absurd display of destructive disinformation & demagoguery. You knew this was coming, but acquiesced because Trump spent two years trying to destroy your profession's institutional role, perversely rewarding him for this.
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) January 9, 2019
While Trump's announcement that he would deliver a primetime Oval Office speech stirred much fervent speculation—right-wingers hoped the president would declare a "national emergency" to build the border wall—the president didn't reveal any news in his scripted remarks, nor did he present a path forward to ending the ongoing government shutdown.
Rather, as Indivisible's Ezra Levin noted, Trump's speech was predictably full of "racist pablum," raising once again the question of why networks would feel compelled to broadcast the address in the homes of millions of Americans and on massive television screens in Times Square.
"Networks turned over their airwaves for a stream of lies," declared Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information Newsletter.
While some expressed hope that, at the very least, media outlets would adequately fact-check the president's falsehoods, the Associated Press and the New York Times quickly dashed these hopes by engaging in "embarrassing" both-sides analysis that downplayed Trump's lies and central role in causing the ongoing government shutdown, which has reached its third week with no end in sight.
A funny thing about the Pinocchio School of Fact-Checking is that it buys the Trumpian right wing's implicit premise that all truth is tribal. Thus, both sides are always the same, and "truth" is found only when you've balanced the amount of criticism being leveled at each party. https://t.co/FSRmzDr9ft
— Jonathan M. Katz (@KatzOnEarth) January 9, 2019
FACT CHECK: The Democrats accused Trump of not paying federal workers doing essential work. But it takes two to not pay someone: one person to not pay, and one to not get paid. There are very fine people on both sides. https://t.co/ErTNJv3Kwg
— Alexandra Erin (@alexandraerin) January 9, 2019
As The Nation's George Zornick argued ahead of Trump's speech, fact-checking—even when done correctly—is not sufficient to counter a president who operates with complete and deliberate disregard for the truth.
"Disinformation campaigns repeat falsehoods long after they have been debunked, even by friendly outlets like Fox News. Fact-checking is powerless in the face of shameless demagoguery," Zornick wrote. "The networks' decision to air Trump’s remarks on Tuesday with a few tart chyrons or on-air fact-checks is just not enough to offset the damage. Trump is unworthy of the airtime."