Ed noted in his post earlier that some NBC staffers, along with many, many reporters outside the network, were irritated by the decision to counterprogram Biden’s ABC townhall tomorrow night with Trump’s.
But unless you’ve been on social media today, you can’t imagine the extent of the whining.
My God. The whining:
Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy-voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will. This will be good for Trump because people like to watch his unpredictability. This is a bad decision. #vote
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) October 14, 2020
The point of a news organization is to serve the public. This is the opposite. @NBCNews could literally run this any other day, or any other time. Shameful. (Disclosure: I am a former NBC News exec) https://t.co/I1CrBq3Y3H
— Vivian Schiller (@vivian) October 14, 2020
This is a bad result for American voters, who should not be forced to choose which to watch. So much is still going wrong with how TV journalism copes, or still fails to cope, with @realDonaldTrump. https://t.co/eRylzIuIBO
— Mark Lukasiewicz (@DeanLuk) October 14, 2020
I’m reminded of Chris Wallace bemoaning the fact that Trump’s shouting meant the American people didn’t get the benefit of hearing from both candidates. @NBCNews apparently has no such view. This is a craven ratings stunt, caving to the Trumpian impulses the network helped hone.
— Kyle Pope (@kylepope) October 14, 2020
The combination of @nbc platforms guarantees that Trump will crush Biden in total viewers tomorrow. And use that “victory” as a rallying cry for days. @MSNBC viewers boycotting will not change that reality. https://t.co/6gEVhItIDg
— Frank Rich (@frankrichny) October 14, 2020
My problem isn't that NBC decided to air a town hall (even though Trump in no way deserves it), it's that they deliberately counter programmed. https://t.co/dxrZkJIY4x
— marymcnamara (@marymcnamara) October 14, 2020
NBC had very little leverage about the timing, I suspect. Trump’s campaign probably made it a condition of agreeing to the townhall that the event be scheduled opposite Biden’s, to deny the Democrat a big audience. If NBC had said no, CBS probably would have said yes. Or CNN. Or CSPAN. Or, if Trump wanted to go the traditional route, Fox certainly would have accommodated him.
Was NBC supposed to turn down a one-hour townhall with the president less than three weeks out from an election? I know the media is all-in on Biden but some opportunities simply can’t be refused.
The network’s own staffers are mad about it, CNN reports, to the point that the C-word is being thrown around: “Some staffers inside NBC News and MSNBC are also perturbed by the decision, with some likening it to collusion between the Trump campaign and the network, sources said.” The Daily Beast is also hearing of disgruntlement, not just from inside the network but from inside Biden’s campaign too. But then, I repeat myself:
“It’s an irresponsible and selfish move by NBC,” a source close to the Biden campaign texted The Daily Beast. “If they’re going to allow Donald Trump an hour of air time to spread disinformation about COVID and repeat his greatest hits of lies and conspiracy theories, they ought to at least do it an hour later and let voters hear from both candidates. Broadcast networks have a role in our Democratic process, and NBC doesn’t seem to be taking theirs very seriously today.”…
Ultimately, in 2020, NBC News’ decision to host a Trump town hall directly opposite the Biden event has not sat well with staff at the news network and its cable-news sister MSNBC.
“Everyone is upset,” one network employee said.
Trump’s motives are obvious. The campaign may be thinking strategically with the scheduling, to try to keep voters from watching Biden, but for the president it’s probably a pure dong-measuring contest. Everything is. Why should this be an exception?
EXCLUSIVE: According to multiple sources familiar with the president's thinking, Trump has told close associates that he wishes to counter-program the Biden town hall and score higher TV viewership numbers, and then use such a contrast to humiliate Biden
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) October 14, 2020
That’s the same logic that makes him think it’s a sick burn when he points out how much bigger his campaign rallies are than Biden’s. There’s only one scoreboard Sleepy Joe is worried about. And that one doesn’t measure crowd attendance or TV ratings.
For all the heat NBC is taking for accommodating Trump, though, it seems like ABC is the party that’s more at fault. They did a townhall with Trump a month ago in the 9 p.m. hour. (And didn’t do great ratings either, as Brian Stelter points out. They drew less for that than Tucker Carlson draws for his evening Fox show on a good night.) But tomorrow night’s townhall with Biden is scheduled for 8 p.m., with an extra half-hour of analysis tacked on once it ends at 9:30. Why didn’t ABC treat Biden the same way it did Trump, with a 9 p.m. start time? Then viewers could have watcjed both townhalls back to back.
Executives at NBC expected that ABC would schedule Biden at 9 p.m., since ABC’s Trump town hall had started at 9, and it seemed logical. NBC’s planners were eyeing the 8 p.m. time slot since that’s when their Biden event took place.
But ABC announced on Sunday morning that Biden would be on from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday. ABC’s reasoning: It was planning on an hour of pre-debate coverage at 8 p.m. that night. So the news division already had blocked off the time…
One source at the network put some of the blame for the overlap on its rival, ABC, asking why it wouldn’t won’t move their Biden event from 8 to 9, in line with ABC’s previous town hall.
Seems like the obvious solution would be for ABC to move Biden to 9 p.m. tomorrow and find something else for the 8 p.m. hour. I doubt NBC would accede to a last-second Trump request to move his townhall to 9 p.m. too to counterprogram Biden again, especially with all the heat they’ve taken today for having done it once already.
You know and I know that the real point of the whining today is simply to work the refs, specifically host Savannah Guthrie. The left pilloried Matt Lauer four years ago for being tough on Hillary and then getting stong-armed by Trump at an event where he interviewed the two of them back-to-back. Between that, the complaints today about the scheduling, and the glaringly obvious favoritism being shown towards Biden throughout the campaign, Guthrie will be under intense pressure to make Trump squirm a little. As Stelter noted, she’ll be the first “real” interview he’s done since overcoming COVID. She’ll need to grill him on the timeline of when he stopped testing negative and started testing positive before being admitted to Walter Reed, at the very least.
I’ll leave you with the tweet below, with which I agree. A bad performance by Trump tomorrow would be worth more to Biden than a good performance of his own would. And since the audience for each event is likely to be a small fraction of what a debate would draw — something on the order of five to 10 percent, I’d guess — it probably won’t matter much anyway. All Biden wanted out of this townhall event was a reason to say that he couldn’t attend the second debate just in case Team Trump changed its mind after canceling on that. (Which it did.) Viewed that way, the ABC thing is already a success for him.
A town hall, in particular, doesn't offer Trump much upside. He's not good in those formats, he's been especially wacky lately, and they generally get pretty mediocre ratings so to the extent people hear from him, it's probably from some clip of a bad answer that went viral.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 14, 2020