Lots of media figures have spent the morning venting their journalistic spleen at NBC News for their counter-programming — and Donald Trump’s — but maybe they should blame Joe Biden instead. Rather than meet Trump in a town-hall debate tomorrow night, Biden refused, citing Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis and recovery. Instead, Biden arranged a town-hall forum on ABC tomorrow night in prime time.
This morning, NBC News announced that they have plans at the same time, and in the same state in which the original event would have taken place:
President Donald Trump will take part in an NBC News town hall event in Miami on Thursday, the network announced on Wednesday, after Trump produced a Covid-19 test showing he is not contagious.
The town hall, moderated by “TODAY” anchor Savannah Guthrie, will take place on the same evening — and at the same time — that Joe Biden is doing his own town hall in Philadelphia on ABC News at 8 p.m. ET.
Trump and Biden were supposed to hold their second debate on Thursday night but it will instead take place on Oct. 22. Trump pulled out of the Thursday debate after organizers announced it was going to be conducted virtually.
During the one-hour town hall at 8 p.m. ET, Guthrie will moderate a conversation between Trump and a group of Florida voters.
As part of this decision, NBC required Trump to take an independent test to determine whether he presented any risk. Today announced that they had confirmed that Trump presents no risk to attendees:
Dr. Clifford Lane of the NIH and Dr. Anthony Fauci have reviewed the president’s recent medical data, including a PCR test collected and analyzed by NIH on 10/13, and have concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that the president is “not shedding infectious virus.” pic.twitter.com/UfuaQgkbCR
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 14, 2020
That in itself is absolute gold for Trump. Needless to say, NBC took flak immediately for counter-programming Trump against Biden:
The decision by NBC News to run a Trump town hall directly opposite ABC's Biden town hall is indefensible.
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) October 14, 2020
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) October 14, 2020
The calls are even coming from inside the house:
I've heard from over a dozen NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC sources (talent and staff) and the frustration with and anger toward their employer for scheduling a town hall against Biden is palpable.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) October 14, 2020
What was NBC supposed to say — no? Joe Biden doesn’t own Thursday night, and neither does ABC. Trump wanted to get the debate back on the schedule after it became clear he’d recovered, but the Commission on Presidential Debates and Biden declined anything but a “virtual” debate for safety’s sake. Trump’s status shows that those concerns were misplaced. Why not put the original event back on the schedule?
This is an absolute trolling victory by Trump in at least two ways. Not only does he get to step all over Joe Biden on Thursday, but he got NBC News to go along with it. And, let’s not forget that he also put NBC in a position where they had to confirm he’s not contagious anyway. That way he can paint Biden as too afraid to face him in person, at least for this particular night.
Let’s end with the competition question raised by Folkenflik. Who will get the better ratings — the softball forum for Biden hosted by former Clinton administration figure George Stephanopoulos, or the almost-certainly tougher forum hosted by Savannah Guthrie that features the Showman in Chief? By Friday, the overnights will give Trump all of the Twitter fodder he’ll need for the entire weekend.