NBC’s decision to hold a town-hall meeting with President Trump at 8 p.m. tonight — at the same time as ABC’s town hall with Joe Biden — has created quite the headache for the Peacock Network’s executives.
Both networks had planned to air the second presidential debate on Thursday until the Commission on Presidential Debates scuttled it last week following Trump’s objections to a virtual format. In lieu of the debate, ABC scheduled a forum with Biden, who will field questions from voters in Philadelphia. Then this week, NBC said it would carry a similar program for Trump in Miami on the same night, kicking off at the same time. Journalists and media commentators have accused NBC’s competing town hall as a capitulation to Trump’s demands for airtime and an attempt to put ratings above the public interest, given the president’s penchant for spewing disinformation.
Among the critics of NBC’s Trump town hall are some of the network’s own employees and biggest stars, more than 100 of whom sent a letter to NBCUniversal and its parent company, Comcast, to protest the decision to allow Trump to compete for eyeballs with Biden. “You are enabling the president’s bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public,” the letter read. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asked Senator Kamala Harris on-air on Wednesday night whether she was “as mad as everybody else” about the competing event (Harris declined to answer).
In typical Trump fashion, the president is now fueling the tensions around the network war that he helped start. Hours before the town hall, Trump derided the network and several of its hosts — including Savannah Guthrie, who is moderating the forum — during a campaign rally in North Carolina. “I figured, what the hell, we get a free hour of television. I’m doing it on NBC, the worst, home of sleepy-eyed Chuck Todd and some others,” he told the crowd. Later, on Twitter, he promoted the event as “a major Fake @NBCNews Town Hall Forum” and seemed to hint at claims of bias that he might throw at the network later if the evening doesn’t go his way. “I wonder if they’ll treat me as well as Sleepy Joe?” he said. “They should!”