If many considered MSNBC’s last-minute solo town hall with Donald Trump, hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, a ploy to compete for ratings with a CNN town hall featuring Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, airing concurrently, it’s one that didn’t work out too well for the network.
According to Nielsen fast national ratings, CNN had the most total viewers (2.3 million) and was highest in the A25-54 demo (758,000) between 8-11 p.m. Fox News had more total viewers at 8 p.m., but came in second overall for the night with 2.1 million total and 393,000 in the demo. MSNBC was third with 1.2 million overall and 281,000 in the demo.
MSNBC isn’t the only network that has dangled the specter of Trump as a way to pull audiences in, put another way, been used by Trump for free publicity and a way to draw attention away from rivals and enemies.
But it has been getting flak for the seeming chumminess between the Morning Joe co-hosts and Trump, and the town hall was a strange way to respond, especially since it turned out to be neither a critical nor a ratings hit.
Erik Wemple wrote that the event was market by a “journalistic shortfall,” calling out the hosts for failing to address Trump’s “shameful record of racism, bigotry and rampant disrespect.”
“Any hourlong session with Donald Trump that doesn’t ask him about those obscenities is a puff session,” he went on to write.
Isaac Chotiner, writing in Slate, went with “disgraceful” as his characterization of the event:
Scarborough and Brzezinski hosted what appeared to be a rehearsed and “safe” town hall, in which American voters asked the candidate such hard-hitting questions as “Why did you decide to run for president?” and “how will you set yourself apart” from other Republicans? It was completely worthless television, except in one sense: The program highlighted the many ways in which the media’s coverage of Trump has been soft, insufficient, and without substance.
But just as the cataloging of Trump’s racism and lies has had no effect on his ability to get votes, we don’t expect criticism of Trump coverage, or even this ratings fail, to have any effect on how, or how much, Trump is covered.
In the end, everybody loses, except the one calling everybody losers.