NBC Criticized for Putting Trump Town Hall Against Biden

(Image credit: N/A)

NBC was getting grief Wednesday for scheduling a Thursday (Oct. 15) town hall meeting with President Donald Trump up against a previously scheduled ABC town hall with Joe Biden, both starting at 8 p.m.

Both Trump and Biden were scheduled for an Oct. 15 debate, but Trump pulled out after his COVID-19 diagnosis prompted the Commission on Presidential Debates to reformat that debate into a virtual one.

Related: Trump to Participate in NBC Town Hall

An NBC News spokesperson said the President's campaign "did not dictate or request the timeslot nor express any preference,” so it was the network's decision to go up against Biden.

Former NBC anchor Katie Couric tweeted her displeasure with NBC's counterprogramming Wednesday, saying: "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."

Self-described former NBC News executive Vivian Schiller tweeted: "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.

Unlike the presidential debates, which multiple news outlets are allowed to carry, the network town halls are exclusive to each, though other news outlets can use clips with credit.

C-SPAN was to have carried the Oct. 15 debate, which would have been moderated by its own Steve Scully, confirmed it does not have the rights to carry either of the town halls.

According to someone familiar with the scheduling, NBC determined the format and time slot, which were the same as that with Joe Biden on NBC last week, and, obviously, the slot was open due to the cancelled debate. 

And while ABC changed its town hall timeslot from 9 p.m. for President Trump on Sept 15 to 8 p.m. for the Biden town hall, NBC basically just stuck with the same slot for both of its town halls. 

The last half hour of Biden will be free of presidential interference, as it were, because NBC's town hall is scheduled for an hour and ABC's is 90 minutes.

The NBC town hall will also air on MSNBC, CNBC and on Telemundo digital platforms and will stream live on NBC News Now in case folks want to watch Biden and stream Trump at the same time. It will also be available on demand on YouTube and Peacock so folks could watch Biden then stream Trump. 

NBC has said that more than 2 million viewers streamed last week's Biden town hall on NBC News Now. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.