NEW YORK - NBC News said it was a desire to promote MSNBC as a news destination that led to its decision Thursday not to carry President Bush's news conference on NBC.
The call to keep Bush off the broadcast network was noteworthy not just because ABC and CBS pre-empted regularly scheduled programming to cover the president, but because NBC was airing another news division program at the time — the fourth hour of "Today."
"We're trying to make MSNBC the place to go for NBC News, and the strategy is working," said Phil Griffin, NBC News senior vice president.
TV networks will generally clear time for a presidential speech if requested by the White House. There's no hard-and-fast rule for news conferences.
In deciding to pre-empt entertainment programming, ABC noted that Bush hadn't had a televised meeting with reporters since Dec. 20. "With all that's on the agenda, including the country's economic concerns, we were certain that live coverage was in the best interest of our viewers," said ABC News spokeswoman Cathie Levine.
In deciding to carry the session, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said the White House had indicated Bush was prepared to address issues like the home mortgage crisis.
During Tuesday's news conference, the president said that the country is not bound for a recession and rejected any new efforts to stimulate the economy.
Griffin said it made no difference that NBC was already carrying a news program at the time of the president's 10 a.m. EST session. During that hour, "Today" aired a segment on Animal Planet's "Rhino Nights" and tips for saving money. On the West Coast, where the news conference aired during the first "Today" hour, Ann Curry reported on it during news updates, he said.
Bush was carried live on NBC cable stations MSNBC and CNBC. That's an option that ABC and CBS, without sister cable stations, does not have.
It would be wrong to pretend like it's 1980 and viewers interested in the president didn't have other options, Griffin said.
The corporate decision to pump up MSNBC was also why Tuesday's presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was carried on cable instead of the network, he said. With nearly 8 million viewers, it was the most-watched program in MSNBC's history and will be rerun twice over the weekend.
Griffin, noting that the policy is "still evolving," said it doesn't mean that there will no longer be instances when NBC carries special news programming. They'll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, he said.
While MSNBC went wall-to-wall with election coverage in prime time on Super Tuesday, NBC carried a one-hour wrap-up. CBS had two hours that night and ABC devoted its entire three-hour prime-time schedule to the news.