NBC News Is Setting a New Mark for Spineless Cynicism

Early Voting Continues In Nevada Ahead Of State's Caucus Next Week
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The second presidential debate was originally scheduled for Thursday, then thrown into limbo after President Donald Trump's COVID diagnosis, then bickered about over format before finally being scrapped altogether by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Those are the broad strokes. But the details matter and distill down to this: Trump objected to the virtual format. He was the one who wasn't going to show up. So Joe Biden made other plans in the form of a town hall with ABC News instead.

Before we go any further, it's important to concede that no one's mind was going to be changed based on another debate. The first one was an abject disaster, a display ripped from Billy Madison in which Chris Wallace should have addressed those at home and confirmed that we'd all become a bit dumber through the experience. A mid-October town hall probably shouldn't be swinging votes either, no matter how persuasive the argument, unless a person has been living under a rock under a larger rock under yet another massive rock for several years.

And yet it is still borderline unconscionable that NBC News has swept in at the Eleventh Hour to throw a life preserver to its former Apprentice star, this morning announcing that they will be running a competing town hall with the president across their platforms.

It takes a Herculean effort to emerge from a crowded pack of cynical actors and the cravenly blind, but the Peacock has managed to do it. The event will be hosted by Savannah Guthrie, and has reportedly been cleared as safe to the network's satisfaction. One wonders how the hundreds of others in the news division feel to once again see ethics and integrity punted to the moon in exchange for ratings and dollars.

Because, let's be clear: this is disturbing. And not because it's Trump. It's not about his policies or his opinions. It's about a process that rewards him for dropping out by giving 90 minutes of airtime without his opponent. Worse, by airing it concurrently, NBC is forcing people to choose between candidates or consume both events with a whim and a remote-control prayer.

This is not informing or serving the audience and everyone involved knows it. It'd be the same gross malpractice if the shoes were on the other feet and it was Biden who was being offered the unearned olive branch. Forgive me for being momentarily naive enough to wonder how so many people can work together in suppressing their own backbones. To wonder how they can not only be the dog in the This is Fine meme, but willingly add fuel to the fire in torching their own credibility.

Again, it's not about the actual nuts and bolts and import of what will happen on Thursday night. Deep down we all know we'll be at the same place on Friday morning — whether there was an actual debate or two competing television shows as there are now. Or if both candidates had called a lid at 8 a.m. and streamed Friends all day without making news.

It's about people who got into news long ago to do the job with a modicum of self-respect and civic responsibility. I know this sounds like a bad Aaron Sorkin rant. But this has really broken years of acceptance that this is just the way it is in a jarring way. This is gross and unnecessary and a neon-bright reflection of misplaced priorities and indifference toward the public.

Everyone at NBC, even those facilitating and participating in this circus, knows it to be true.

Everyone knows how this plays out, too. The Trump event destroys Biden's in the ratings department. He crows about it. A few people point out that this was virtually assured to happen considering how many networks and platforms across the NBC family were airing it as opposed to the ABC portfolio. No one listens. Rinse. Repeat. Wait for the next media embarrassment.