On Thursday night this week, presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate in a town hall on ABC. The town hall was scheduled after Donald Trump pulled out of a previously planned debate. He refused a virtual format, even though he’d been diagnosed with COVID-19 and could not guarantee he’d be non-contagious in time for a traditional debate. He still has not provided any guarantee, by the way. But now NBC will host a town hall with Trump at the same time as the ABC Biden event. This is not good for anyone. I’m not opposed to both men doing town hall events this week, though I wouldn’t share airspace with super-spreader Trump. I am opposed to having the town halls air at the same time on competing networks. It’s ridiculous and counterproductive. Frankly, I don’t know how any voter is still undecided in this election, but apparently some are. Those voters should not be forced to choose which candidate they want to hear from on Thursday.
Frankly, NBC has a lot to answer for when it comes to putting Trump on the air. This is the network that gave Trump his Apprentice series, which many people believe stoked Trump’s insatiable desire for ratings and media attention. NBC may not have understood they were feeding a beast back when The Apprentice premiered in 2004, but they should understand it now.
NBC struggles with credibility. They are, of course, the network that gave free rein to serial sexual predator Matt Lauer. And NBC News turned away Ronan Farrow when he came to them with evidence of rampant, widespread sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein. Now they will use their airwaves to give the sexual predator-in-chief a platform. This last-minute NBC town hall is an an obvious ploy to draw viewers from ABC.
Look, television networks have the right to compete for viewers, but an election is not a sitcom or a family drama and we shouldn’t treat it like one. It’s bad enough that voters can immerse themselves in self-affirming narratives simply by watching “news” networks that reinforce their views. The echo chambers of Fox News and MSNBC have effectively eliminated any middle ground we might find. We don’t need traditional over-the-air broadcast networks joining the fray.
Over-the-air networks used to be required to offer roughly equal time for candidates or issues, thanks to a rule called the Fairness Doctrine. This rule was not perfect, but it was established under the idea that the public airwaves should serve the public good. The Fairness Doctrine is long gone and would be unenforceable in these times of syndicated talk radio and cable news networks. Maybe it’s for the best. We’ve seen the damage of insidious “both sides” arguments. But I think it’s a damn shame that broadcast networks no longer even pretend to serve the public good.
The powers that be at NBC News do not care about truth or fairness. They do not care about anything except ratings and increased viewership, all of it designed to pull in ever bigger ad revenues for their conglomerate of networks including MSNBC, CNBC, and NBC. It is shameful. It is cynical. It is shady. And it is not news.
I already know how I’m voting in the upcoming election. I don’t need to watch either town hall to make up my mind. But I have decided something else: I will no longer consume news content of any kind from NBC, MSNBC, or CNBC. I like some of the individual anchors and reporters on these networks, but I don’t trust the decision makers at the helm. The fish rots from the head and NBC stinks.