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April 27, 2009

Fox rejects Obama's request for airtime

Obama podiumIs the honeymoon over?

For the first time since Barack Obama took office, a major broadcast network is refusing to grant the president's request for primetime coverage.

Fox has issued a statement saying it will air regular programming (detective drama Lie to Me) Wednesday night instead of Obama's 100-day news conference.

"The Fox Broadcasting Company will not air the Presidential News Conference," Fox said in a statement. "Fox's sister networks, Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network, will air the press conference in its entirety. Fox will be alerting viewers with an onscreen graphic at the top of the 8:00 PM (ET) hour that the press conference is available on Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network."

ABC, CBS and NBC have issued statements saying they will carry the president's telecast.

Though some will assume a political motivation to Fox's decision, the network has plenty of bottom-line reasons for refusing Obama's request.

Broadcasters have increasingly groused about the president's requests for airtime. Each interruption costs networks millions of dollars in advertising. Fox is the only major broadcast network without a dedicated news division and is typically the least-watched broadcaster when covering live news events.  Meanwhile, sister network Fox News tends to draw larger audiences for this sort of coverage.

Fox carried the president's two other post-inauguration news events, and even moved TV's most popular show, American Idol, to make room for Obama's most recent telecast. The network has rejected presidential requests for primetime coverage from previous administrations of both parties in the past. 

Obama's request falls inconveniently in the middle of sweeps, though his choice of time periods has improved. Aside from Fox, the other major broadcasters have low-rated programming in the hour, so the press conference shouldn't prove too disruptive, and might even give 9 p.m. shows on NBC, ABC and CBS a better lead-in. Fox won 8 p.m. with Lie to Me last week, and the show might see a bump Wednesday since competitors will not air their usual entertainment programming.

According to one report, the nonpartisan research group Center for Media and Public Affairs found that evening newscasts have covered Obama more than both Pres. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton during the first 50 days of their first terms -- combined. The study also found the media's coverage of Obama was generally positive. 

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