NBC went ahead with a town hall with President Trump on Thursday night, brushing aside criticism that the event coincided with a similar event with Joe Biden on rival ABC.
“Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie sparred aggressively with Trump about white supremacy and QAnon, the online conspiracy theory about a pedophile cult.
Trump said he knew little about it, though he had heard they were “strongly against pedophilia.”
“I agree with that,” he said.
When she followed up, asking him to say there was no pedophile cult, he declined.
“I don’t know that,” Trump said. “Neither do you know that. Why aren’t you asking me about antifa?”
Guthrie appeared ready for a fight. “You’re not just someone’s crazy uncle that can retweet whatever,” she said at one point.
After a commercial break, Guthrie and Trump continued to do battle over pre-existing conditions and Trump’s on-again-off-again approach to stimulus negotiations.
Meanwhile, on ABC, the first question posed to former Vice President Biden was also about the COVID-19 crisis and what the questioner described as a lack of coordinated response from the federal government.
Biden’s avuncular delivery and ease at discussing the nitty gritty details of policy proposals with ABC’s chief anchor George Stephanopoulos stood in sharp contrast to the belligerent tone that Trump took with Guthrie.
“The president has a responsibility to lead and he didn’t do that,” Biden said of Trump’s actions during the pandemic. “He didn’t talk about what needed to be done. He kept worrying, in my view, about the (stock) market.”
On NBC, Trump bristled as Guthrie pressed hard on his administration’s response to the virus.
“I knew you’d be doing this,” he said. “I know you very well.”
About 60 voters, all wearing masks, attended the event at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami.
The dueling events set up a ratings battle, as Trump hopes to tout the enthusiasm behind his campaign.
At a rally in Greenville, N.C., earlier in the day, Trump said he was being “set up.”
“I’m doing this town hall with ‘Concast,’ because it’s a con job,” he said. “It’s NBC, the worst.”
Trump and Biden were originally supposed to hold a town hall debate on Thursday night with C-SPAN host Steve Scully. But the event was canceled after Trump refused to participate in a virtual event following his positive test for COVID-19.
Several high-profile Hollywood creatives, including many connected to NBC, signed an open letter Thursday urging the network to change the time of the Trump event, and arguing that NBC was “enabling” Trump’s bad behavior.
NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde responded, saying it would be unfair to offer Trump a different time slot than the one that had been afforded to Biden at an NBC town hall on Oct. 5.
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