US Network Pass on Bush Iraq Speech

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Posted by Tony from ( on Tuesday, October 08, 2002 at 1:37AM :

U.S. networks pass on Bush Iraq speech
Mon Oct 7, 7:19 PM ET
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The three major U.S. TV networks said they will pass on live coverage of President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s speech Monday outlining his case against Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) after the White House declined to request air time.

Reuters Photo

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ABC, CBS and NBC all opted to stick with their usual prime-time schedules rather than broadcast the president's address, which he is to deliver at 8:01 p.m. EDT in Cincinnati, Ohio, as Congress moves toward authorizing a possible war against Iraq.

Representatives for two of the networks -- CBS and ABC -- said White House officials had advised them that the president's speech "was not going to make news."

All three said it was customary for the networks to provide free air time for a major presidential address whenever the White House requested it, but no such request was made.

"The White House is very effective in telegraphing when a speech rises to that level," one network news official said. "They request time, they may do it from the Oval Office, and neither was done in this case."

ABC's "World News Tonight" with Peter Jennings planned to update its broadcast with news of the speech for West Coast viewers, a spokeswoman said. CBS said it would leave it up to local affiliates to carry a live feed of the speech if they wished.

By contrast, all-news cable outlets CNN, Fox News Channel and NBC's sister cable network, MSNBC, all planned to air the president's address live.


White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites) said Bush's address Monday night "will be a notable speech" but confirmed the administration had not asked the networks to carry the address live. "We did not want to give the impression that military action was imminent," Fleischer said. "Often, the hype of a major network broadcast can lead to that impression. We respect their decision."

Aides said the speech, directed at the American public as well as an international audience, was intended to explain the urgency of Bush's case against Hussein but was not expected to reveal new intelligence data on Iraqi arms programs.

Bush last addressed the nation on prime-time television with a speech outside the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The next day, his daytime address to the U.N. General Assembly also was carried live by the major networks.

NBC spokeswoman Barbara Levin said the White House requested time for the Sept. 11 speech, and Bush's address before the United Nations (news - web sites) clearly made news.

By contrast, she said, Monday's speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center "is a planned event ... for an audience of 400 or 500 people."

Independent broadcast news analyst Andrew Tyndall said it was up to the White House, not the networks, to decide that a presidential speech is worth broadcasting live in prime time.

"You can't preempt your programming every time the president opens his mouth," Tyndall said. "The onus is on the president" to ask for time if he is going to make an important speech, he added.


-- Tony
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