NBC faces backlash over scheduling its Trump town hall against ABC’s Biden event

President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
(Associated Press)

NBC News is sticking with its plan to air a live televised town hall with President Trump Thursday night, competing directly against ABC’s event with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The news division will have Trump answer questions from “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and voters in Miami starting at 5 p.m. Pacific despite a backlash on social media, which included harsh comments from some former employees, who believe the move will disenfranchise viewers who want to watch both events.

The hashtags #BoycottNBC and #NBCBlackout are trending on Twitter amid growing outrage from Hollywood and beyond.

“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,” former NBC News star Katie Couric wrote on Twitter. “This is a bad decision.”


Cheryl Gould, a former executive vice president for NBC News, said the network is capitulating to Trump, who refused the Commission on Presidential Debates’ request that his scheduled Oct. 15 meeting with Biden be held virtually as a safety precaution.

Trump was hospitalized on Oct. 2 after contracting COVID-19, three days after his first debate with Biden in Cleveland. The president, who is back to active campaigning, insisted he would do only an in-person event, leading to the debate’s cancellation by the commission. Once Trump backed out, Biden’s campaign agreed to do a town hall event with ABC News.

“I am dismayed — more like disgusted — by NBC’s decision to air Trump’s ‘I won’t play by the rules so let me make my own rules’ town hall opposite Biden’s,” Gould wrote on Facebook. “Is this what the new leadership at NBC thinks is the right thing to do? To be complicit in Trump’s tantrum? A shameless grab for ratings!”

“This is an outright embarrassing ratings ploy on behalf of NBC,” CNN anchor Don Lemon says of the network’s plan to air a Trump town hall Thursday.

Oct. 15, 2020

Mark Lukasiewicz, a former NBC News producer who now oversees the journalism department at Hofstra University, also criticized the network’s move.

“This is a bad result for American voters, who should not be forced to choose which to watch,” he wrote on Twitter. “So much is still going wrong with how TV journalism copes, or still fails to cope, with @realDonaldTrump.”


NBC News insiders have said the town hall was made available to Trump because NBC had presented an hourlong forum with Biden on Oct. 5, also held in Miami.

NBC offered Trump the same time period given to Biden. Scheduling the town hall at 9 or 10 p.m. Eastern would have given Trump access to more viewers, as the number of homes watching television in those hours is higher. The division also will make its event available on its streaming platforms after it airs live on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo.

How the two 1960 presidential candidates — one in New York, the other in Los Angeles — held an hourlong forum from separate studios.

Oct. 13, 2020

NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde defended the company’s position Thursday, as the outcry over the scheduling continued. A petition signed by more than 100 Hollywood figures called the move “a disservice to the American public.”

“We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations,” Conde said in a statement.

“If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum. We hope voters will watch both discussions — ours will be available at any time, free and on-demand on YouTube, Peacock and all our digital news platforms.”

ABC’s event with Biden, which will take place in Philadelphia with chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, is set to run 90 minutes, the same length as its Sept. 15 session with Trump.