Donald Trump, NBC News Set Town Hall For Thursday, Competing With ABC News’ Joe Biden Event

By Ted Johnson, Dominic Patten

Donald Trump
Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IP

Donald Trump will do a town hall for NBC News on Thursday at the same time that Joe Biden is set to participate in a similar event on ABC News.

The unusual scheduling came after plans for a second presidential debate, which was to also feature a town hall format, were scrapped last week.

Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie will moderate the NBC News event, starting at 8 PM ET, from Miami.

At the same time, Biden will participate in a dueling town hall in Philadelphia with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

The decision by NBC News to schedule a town hall at the same time as the Biden event drew some criticism on social media. The competing events potentially diminishes the audience for each, but the NBC wanted the same format, duration and time slot, a source said. A later primetime event would have meant starting at 9:30 PM ET or 10 PM ET. Given that the second presidential debate was scrapped for Thursday evening, it also was a time that Trump was available, the source said.

NBC and the Trump campaign had been negotiating for the event since last week. A sticking point had been a set of COVID-19 safety protocols, as NBC News sought evidence of Trump’s testing and medical condition before moving forward.

On Today on Wednesday, Craig Melvin said that the network had been given a statement from Dr. Clifford Lane of the National Institutes of Health indicating that he and Dr. Anthony Fauci went through the president’s recent medical data, including a PCR test collected and analyzed by the NIH on Oct. 13. They concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that the president is “not shedding infectious virus,” NBC News said. The event also will be outside, and Guthrie and Trump will be at least 12 feet apart. The audience also will be socially distanced and required to wear face masks.

NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander noted that this was the first time they had received independent confirmation that the president was “no longer a risk to spread the virus.”

Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the planned second debate, a town hall format that was to feature moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN, would be a virtual event, with both candidates appearing remotely. Trump objected to that approach, insisting that the event be in person. After initially indicating that he would attend, Biden’s campaign scheduled the ABC News town hall on the same evening. As it became clear that candidates were making other plans, the commission scrapped the debate.

Trump and Biden are still scheduled to participate in a presidential debate on Oct. 22, with NBC News’ Kristen Welker as moderator. Biden participated in an NBC News town hall on Oct. 5, and Trump did an ABC News town hall on Sept. 15.

The NBC News town hall also will air on MSNBC, CNBC, NBC News Now and Telemundo’s digital platforms. That reach is wider than the ABC event, something that could help ratings-obsessed Trump a larger audience.

Although he was once one of NBC’s biggest personalities via Celebrity Apprentice, Trump has repeatedly bashed NBC News, as he has most mainstream news outlets, for their reporting. He’s taken to refer to the network’s parent company, Comcast, as “Concast,” and to MSNBC as “MSDNC.”

NBC’s decision to schedule to event at the same time as Biden’s on ABC drew criticism on social media, including a #BoycottNBC hashtag. Mark Lukasiewicz, a former NBC News executive who is now dean at Hofstra University” Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, wrote, “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.”

George Takei, the Star Trek actor and political activist, wrote, “Don’t watch the Trump Town Hall tomorrow on NBC. Catch the highlights later. Don’t give Trump a ratings win. Pass it on.”

Barbra Streisand wrote, “NBC has now decided that after he cowardly backed out of a debate to give Donald Trump an hour townhall opposite Joe Biden. All Trumps wants to do is win the ratings game. He is more a game show host than a President.”

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