Networks to prime Bush speech

President expected to endorse Petraeus plan

The big four broadcast networks will break into primetime to carry President Bush’s address tonight, in which he is expected to endorse Gen. Petraeus’ plan to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq by 30,000 by next summer.

The four broadcast nets plan to preempt primetime at 9 p.m. ET for the president’s speech, which is expected to last 15 minutes. CBS’ Katie Couric, ABC’s Charles Gibson and NBC’s Brian Williams will anchor for their respective networks.

Couric will be joined by Bob Schieffer in Washington, Williams by “Meet the Press” anchor Tim Russert.

Fox will air a special report from Fox News Channel anchored by Shepherd Smith.

The broadcast nets declined to carry any live footage of the hearings with Army Gen. David Petraeus or Ambassador Ryan Crocker but devoted large portions of their evening newscasts to Iraq.

“It’s been heavy but not dominant,” said news analyst Andrew Tyndall, who noted that the big three evening newscasts have so far devoted fewer minutes to coverage of the Petraeus hearings than they did to the Iraq Study Group report, released in December.

The cable networks devoted extensive coverage to the hearings on Monday but increasingly turned to ratings staples along the lines of the McCann family, the British couple whose 4-year-old daughter went missing in Portugal in May.

By devoting an hour, cable news nets will allow for what’s expected to be a sharp response from Democrats, including a few running for president. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) issued a statement Wednesday calling the plan “too little too late.”

In addition to his testimony, Petraeus has made himself available for interviews in advance of the president’s address. The general appeared on Fox News Channel on Monday night and was scheduled to appear on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC on Wednesday night.

Fox News Channel is shifting its primetime schedule an hour later to accommodate an hour of coverage at 9 p.m. ET anchored by Brit Hume. “Hannity & Colmes” shifts to 10 and “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren” will air at 11.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer will anchor a two-hour “Situation Room” preceding the president’s 9 p.m. address. Larry King will pick up and anchor the remainder of his show after the speech concludes at about 9:15.

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