The "Big Three" networks' decision not to carry President Bush's speech Monday
on Iraq drew quick and sharp criticism from one NBC commentator. In fact,
MSNBC editor in chief Jerry Nachman was considerably tougher on the
decision than the White House, which said it understood why the broadcast
networks -- except for Fox -- took a pass on the president's case for an attack
In an MSNBC commentary, Nachman called the possible threat on Iraq "the most
important story in the world." For the first time in our history, he said,
"possibly attacking a sovereign country that has not yet attacked us or one of
our allies." War is a big story, Nachman said, "but this is the month that
broadcast networks are rolling out or reprising their prime time schedules . if
you want to catch the latest episode of King of Queens, head to CBS; ABC
is going with Drew Carey; and on my over-the-air parent, NBC, tonight is
the long-awaited episode of Fear Factor in which hundreds of thousands of
bees crawl all over the contestants."
Nachman recalled the resignation of CBS News president Fred Friendly when the
Senate chose I Love Lucy reruns over live Senate hearings on Vietnam.
"What's changed since then?" he asked. "I think its ambition. At some places,
president of the news division became an entry-level job -- their first or maybe
second in news. Then it became a stepping stone. Network news presidents keep
moving up the corporate ladder. It used to be a terminal position: Hey, this is
the job I want. Take me off the career ladder. Not any more."
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president was not
disappointed the speech did not get broader carriage. "The White House did not
request them to do so, so I think it would be unreasonable for anybody to think
they should have," he said. "The White House deliberately did not ask them to do
so because, one, given the substantive amount of information that was new in the
speech, in good conscience, we did not think we should ask the networks to do so,
even though it was an important and newsworthy address."
Fleischer said the White House worried that speculation regarding a request
for live coverage could lead people to believe that war was imminent.