By week’s end, Americans may well feel that they’ve spent plenty of time with their fellow townspeople. Tonight, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski — the hosting duo of “Morning Joe” — will welcome Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump for an 8 p.m. ET town hall discussion. Opposite that spectacle, CNN will host a trio of Republican presidential hopefuls — Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The dueling town hall approach will extend into Thursday night, as MSNBC presents the Democratic candidates and CNN the rest of the GOP field. The bingeing builds on other town halls organized by CNN and MSNBC, including an event in November with the Democratic candidates (MSNBC), a presidential town hall on gun control (CNN), events in Iowa and New Hampshire (CNN) and one in Flint, Mich., about the water crisis (MSNBC).
The benefits of the format are threefold: 1) Break the monotony of cable-news panel discussions, on-set interviews and unconvincing breaking-news alerts; 2) grill public officials, thus producing journalism; 3) get better ratings. On that last front, both CNN and MSNBC have used these town hall formats to more effectively challenge preeminent cable-news outlet Fox News. Town hall formats differ from debates in that the candidates appear sequentially and don’t face each other head-to-head.
So where’s Fox News’s town hall schedule? Fox News declined to comment on possible future plans at this time.
This is not to say that Fox News isn’t covering the race aggressively. It is. Chief political anchor Bret Baier’s “Special Report” did a series of profiles on the candidates. Several GOP candidates gave early exclusives to Fox News hosts, especially Sean Hannity. Interviews, analysis, reports from the field — it all continues apace on Fox News. Too, the network and cousin Fox Business Network nailed down five dates hosting GOP debates, including a tilt on March 3 in Detroit.
Like its competitors, Fox News enjoys nothing so much as drubbing all comers in the ratings, by as large a margin as possible. Yet for some reason, it hasn’t yet utilized the town hall format to do precisely that.
Last week, Fox News asked Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz if the network could do a Democratic debate. She laughed and then explained that she was among the few Democrats who would agree to appear on Fox News. So, no commitment. But why wouldn’t Fox News attempt to round up Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for a town hall, the better to cement its bona fides for a debate showdown?