Comcast’s NBCUniversal came under fire from viewers, academics, and some staffers for scheduling a town hall for Thursday night with President Donald Trump that went head-to-head against ABC’s own town hall with Democratic challenger Joe Biden in Philadelphia.
More than 100 actors, writers, and producers — including current NBCUniversal stars — wrote a letter to company leadership condemning the network for letting Trump “counterprogram” his rival, according to the Wall Street Journal. NBC’s move, finalized late Tuesday, sparked outrage on social media, where users posted the hashtags #BoycottNBC and #BoycottComcast to show their displeasure.
The town halls began at 8 p.m. Eastern. Biden’s took place in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center and aired on ABC, while Trump appeared at Pérez Art Museum Miami in a forum that aired on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. The dueling town halls came after the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates canceled the second debate between the candidates. Trump said he wouldn’t participate in the debate because the commission wanted to hold the event virtually — a decision made after Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
The Daily Beast, citing anonymous sources, reported that Trump sought to hold an event at the same time as Biden in hopes of scoring higher TV ratings and embarrassing his rival.
In a statement, NBC News Group chairman Cesar Conde said the network shares “in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden.” He said NBC News’ decision was “motivated only by fairness, not business considerations.”
“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,” Conde’s statement said.
Critics said NBC was rewarding Trump for pulling out of the second debate and forcing viewers to choose between the two broadcasts. Jay Rosen, a prominent New York University journalism professor, wrote on Twitter that NBC has “created dueling spectacles for voters.”
MSNBC opinion host Rachel Maddow suggested displeasure at her employer during an interview Wednesday with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
“Are you as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow instead of the debate, at the same time that Vice President Biden’s going to be on ABC?” Maddow asked.