The three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — cut away from President Trump’s news conference at the White House on Thursday as the president lobbed false claims about the integrity of the election.
Mr. Trump timed his appearance to air during the networks’ evening newscasts, which draw the biggest collective audience in TV news. But the anchors broke in after a few minutes to correct some of his falsehoods.
“We have to interrupt here, because the president made a number of false statements, including the notion that there has been fraudulent voting,” said Lester Holt, the “NBC Nightly News” anchor. He added, “There has been no evidence of that.”
On ABC, the anchor David Muir broke in and told viewers “there’s a lot to unpack here and fact-check.” The CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes spent about 90 seconds ticking through several of Mr. Trump’s baseless statements.
Although the cable news networks CNN and Fox News continued carrying Mr. Trump’s remarks live, the decision by the broadcast networks to break away deprived Mr. Trump of a significantly larger audience for his unfiltered — and un-fact-checked — remarks on the election. The three network evening newscasts are seen by a larger and broader viewership than the programming on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News at that hour.
The question of whether to air Mr. Trump’s appearances live has bedeviled television executives since the start of his presidency. Earlier this year, networks struggled with how to contextualize information from Mr. Trump about the coronavirus that doctors and public health officials considered misleading and sometimes downright wrong.
On Thursday, MSNBC was the first outlet to break away from Mr. Trump’s news conference, after just 35 seconds. (MSNBC, which has a large liberal following, has been more aggressive than other channels in choosing to hold off on airing the president live.) The move “was not done as a stunt, or out of theatrics,” the anchor Brian Williams told viewers, but rather, “we just can’t have it. It was not rooted in reality and, at this point in where our country is, it’s dangerous.”
On CNN, a caption appeared below Mr. Trump as he spoke reading, “WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE, TRUMP SAYS HE’S BEING CHEATED.” On Fox News, a graphic conveyed a different message: “TRUMP: ‘THEY’RE TRYING TO STEAL THE ELECTION.’”
On Fox News afterward, the network’s chief White House correspondent, John Roberts, told viewers that “we haven’t seen any evidence” to back up the president’s unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud. (Mr. Roberts was reporting from the White House briefing room, where he wore a protective mask.) The anchor Bret Baier concurred, reminding viewers, “we have not seen the evidence yet.”