When your visit to network airspace has a pricetag of $40M in lost revenue, it should come as no surprise that networks are becoming reluctant to air prime time presidential press conferences – especially when there’s historical precedence to give them the cold shoulder.
Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz brought the issue into focus with a report noting the tactics used by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to get coverage for Obama’s most recent presser on centered on health care.
According to the report, universal network coverage of prime time press conferences ceased during the Reagan administration. George H.W. Bush (President #41) didn’t even schedule one until his last full year in office, 1992, and it was universally ignored when the nets perceived it as nothing more than a campaign event.
It’s been different with Obama thus far – his popularity has made it more difficult to turn him down – but Fox has already skipped the last two out of four events, and dwindling audiences each time may be emboldening other networks to follow suit going forward.
Kurtz says network execs are complaining behind the scenes, because they are giving up revenue they can’t get back, and usually are not even getting any journalistic bang out of the events. Obama has tended to explain policy at some length, limiting the sound bite effect and also limiting the number of journalistic outlets that benefit from having one of their reporters picked to ask a question.
RBR/TVBR observation: With three mainstream cable news networks always on the lookout for fodder, it really is becoming less of a necessity to go through the broadcast networks to reach the American people.
Of course, relying on cable/satellite alone cuts out that 15% or so of the public that gets their television straight from the airwaves. If the event is truly newsworthy, we have to expect that those very same television stations and networks that opted not to carry it will at the very least report on it, and other media – including radio, print and the internet — should have coverage as well.
A very high threshold of importance should be cleared before roadblocking the programming flowing into American households with blanket coverage of a presidential event.