Michael M. Grynbaum,
New York Times Service
October 14, 2020 | 9:00 AM
President Donald Trump may not be debating Joe Biden on the same stage on Thursday night as originally planned. But the two candidates will still face off head-to-head.
NBC News confirmed on Wednesday that it would broadcast a prime-time town-hall-style event with Trump from Miami on Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern, with the president fielding questions from Florida voters.
The event is scheduled to directly overlap with ABC’s televised town hall meeting that night with Biden in Philadelphia, which is also set to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern.
The NBC event, to be moderated by the “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie, had been contingent on the Trump campaign providing independent proof that the president, who announced early this month that he had contracted the coronavirus, would not pose a safety risk to the other participants — including NBC crew members, voters and Guthrie herself.
As late as Tuesday afternoon, NBC executives were waiting for that proof, but the network determined late Tuesday that it would be comfortable moving forward, according to two people familiar with the planning.
On the “Today” show on Wednesday, the NBC anchor Craig Melvin said the town hall would occur “in accordance with the guidelines set forth by health officials” and proffered a statement from Clifford Lane, a clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, who said he reviewed data about Trump’s condition and concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that the president is “not shedding infectious virus.”
The network did not explicitly say that Trump had received a negative result from a PCR test, a widely used diagnostic test for the coronavirus that is considered more reliable than a rapid antigen test.
Trump and his aides have not shared extensive details about the president’s medical condition with the public, and over the past few days, NBC executives were no exception. Until late Tuesday, the network had been prepared to cancel the event if the president’s team did not present convincing evidence that Trump would not potentially infect those around him, one of the people said.
NBC officials began discussing the possibility of a town hall with the Trump campaign last week, after Trump pulled out of the second planned presidential debate. The network made clear at the start of discussions that it needed outside proof of the president’s medical condition.
NBC officials did not say exactly what testing criteria the network had requested, but its management said it was not relying solely on the word of the White House physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, the two people said.
Conley has not taken reporters’ questions in more than a week. On Monday, he said that Trump had tested negative “on consecutive days” using a rapid antigen coronavirus test not intended for that purpose. Experts have cautioned that the test’s accuracy has not yet been investigated enough to be sure that the president is virus-free.
The NBC event, which will be held outdoors, is one of Trump’s last opportunities of the campaign to make his case before a large televised audience. It will be simulcast on MSNBC and CNBC, virtually guaranteeing the president a higher Nielsen rating than Biden’s town hall that night, which is set to air on a single traditional TV network.
The dueling ABC and NBC telecasts came about after Trump rejected a proposal for a virtual debate that was supposed to be held in Miami on Thursday night, torpedoing plans for his second formal meeting with Biden, his Democratic rival. The two candidates are scheduled to meet for a final debate in Nashville, Tennessee, next Thursday, Oct. 22, moderated by the NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker.
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