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Removing presidential debates from commission control virtually guarantees fewer viewers | Entertainment

Removing presidential debates from commission control virtually guarantees fewer viewers |  Entertainment


NEW YORK (AP) The project presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were quickly arranged this week are a coup for CNN and ABC News, but a near guarantee that they will be among the least watched general elections ever.

The two campaigns Bypassed the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the events for 36 years with the aim of presenting them to as many people as possible.

ABC, which named David Muir and Linsey Davis as moderators for a debate scheduled for September 10, said it would make it available for simulcast on any U.S. television network or streaming service that wants it. CNN had not said Friday morning whether it would do the same for its debate, scheduled for June 27 with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash as speakers.

A debate between Vice President Kamala Harris and whoever former President Trump chooses as his running mate is should be broadcast this summer on CBS.

Each of the two debates between Biden and Trump in 2020 was broadcast on at least 16 networks, according to the Nielsen company. The first was seen by 73.1 million viewers, the second by 63 million.

The debates preceding a party's nominating process, which Trump has skipped this year, are typically organized and broadcast by individual media outlets. The tradition has been different for those held by the commission during general election campaigns, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of a Expert Group Annenberg organized ways to increase viewership ten years ago.

It's a public debate, Jamieson said.

For CNN executives, the temptation is great to keep this to themselves. It would probably be the most watched event ever seen on a channel in audience difficulty. The CEO of CNN, Marc Thompsonmade a point of linking the debate to the brand on Wednesday by announcing the agreement to hold it during a commercial presentation to advertisers in New York.

When people have something important to say, Thompson said, they say it on CNN.

CNN said Wednesday that the debate will also be broadcast live on its international and Spanish-language networks, as well as on CNN Max and

The pool of people available to watch on CNN's main television network is shrinking due to the shutdown of cable and satellite services. CNN was available in 71% of American households with televisions in May 2020; this month, it's just under 54 percent, Nielsen said.

Keeping the debate on CNN only would face strong criticism that it is not a civic-minded thing to do, something ABC has quickly avoided.

The political polarization that has spread to the media would also likely reduce viewership if the event was not shared, Jamieson said. Would Fox News viewers, after years of hearing CNN criticized by some of their favorite politicians and media personalities, turn to CNN for debate or ignore it altogether?

It's still unclear exactly how many other networks will carry the debates, even if they get the chance. Only PBS said this would be the case; other networks have yet to make a public commitment.

Some of these executives are expected to have a hard time swallowing another network's personalities on their airwaves, with the risk that some of their regular viewers will like them and switch allegiances. The pressure to lead the debates for reasons of public service would, however, be intense.

Despite concerns about how many people will watch, Jamieson said there is some irony in the fact that there is a lot to like about the proposed ground rules for the event. For now, it is planned to organize them in television studios, without an audience.

This is something the Annenberg group proposed a decade ago, arguing that an audience that reacts to what candidates say is often a distraction, and that audience is usually filled with supporters of both sides.

If the two campaigns agree on rules under which a candidate's microphone would be muted while their opponent answers a question, it would go a long way toward solving what has recently become a more frequent problem, that of politicians interrupting and talking about an adversary, she said.

If someone had told me there would be good news about political discourse this year, I would have told them they were deluding themselves, she said.

David Bauder writes about media for the Associated Press. Follow him at

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




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