Biden participated in a 90-minute town hall from Philadelphia on ABC, while NBC News went ahead with its hourlong Trump session in Miami — despite protests from Hollywood stars and others who criticized the network for forcing viewers to choose because the two events were held at the same time.
Trump faced constant grilling with questions drawn seemingly from the Biden campaign’s playbook, from Savannah Guthrie of the “Today” show, who pressed him on his personal experience with COVID-19, his finances and his alleged support of conspiracy theories.
In addition to her own sharp questioning, Guthrie would often follow up queries made by audience members to nail down a point.
She challenged Trump about some of the specific beliefs of the QAnon group, Trump supporters who believe he’s the man to save the country from “deep state” pedophiles.
Trump said he didn’t know anything about them.
“I just told you,” Guthrie replied, obviously unbelieving his answer.
She also wondered why Trump would retweet a false theory by someone on the Internet that the United States didn’t really kill Osama bin Laden.
“You’re the president,” she said. “You’re not like somebody’s crazy uncle who can just retweet anything.”
Guthrie’s performance sharply divided social media users between those who thought she was effective in confronting Trump and those who found her too combative. According to Fox News:
Viewers who tuned into the Peacock Network expected to hear questions from voters. However, Guthrie spent most of the first 20 minutes grilling Trump on masks and White supremacy.
That didn’t sit well with many observers.
“How long will NBC go before giving an actual voter the chance to ask a question?” asked pollster Frank Luntz, who later called the “town hall” descriptor of the program “false advertising.”
“A third of the way into the NBC town hall and NO questions from the PEOPLE!!!” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany exclaimed.
“Has any media person ever challenged Biden like Savannah Guthrie is with Trump?” tweeted Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham.
NBC News chief executive Cesar Conde said Thursday that NBC scheduled Trump out of fairness after Biden did a town hall at the same time last Thursday.
That decision opened the network to sharp criticism — including a protest letter sent Thursday by more than 100 Hollywood creators and celebrities like Amy Schumer, Seth Rogen, Sterling K. Brown and Sarah Silverman.
NBC also said it reached out to ABC to ask that network to reschedule its Biden town hall so the two candidates wouldn’t compete for time, and ABC refused.
There were apparently still hard feelings, given that Muir twice mentioned a nameless “another network” holding a Trump town hall.
The Biden session on ABC with George Stephanopoulos of “Good Morning America” was a more sedate affair filled with softball questions from friendly voters and follow-ups from the former Clinton administration operative.
Neither Stephanopoulos nor any of the Biden town hall questioners raised the topic of the blockbuster stories in the New York Post this week about the revelation of Hunter Biden’s emails, which indicated that he informed his father while Vice President about his business deals in Ukraine, Russia, and China, trading on his name for billions of dollars in contracts.
At a rally in North Carolina on Thursday, Trump called NBC “the worst” and said he was being set up with the town hall.
He has also made some preemptive strikes criticizing NBC News’ Kristen Welker, who is scheduled to moderate the second and last debate between Biden and Trump next week.
Thursday’s scheduled debate was canceled after Trump, while he was being treated for COVID-19, said he would not agree to an event where he and Biden appeared remotely.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.