Even as NBC News was taking heat for its decision to hold a town hall event featuring President Trump directly opposite ABC’s event with former vice president Joe Biden, moderator Savannah Guthrie drew praise for challenging Trump on a variety of topics, from his refusal to denounce white supremacy to his amplification of conspiracy theories.
Trump at times grew agitated with Guthrie during the 60-minute town hall event Thursday. When the “Today” show co-host asked why, during his debate appearance last month, Trump would not denounce white supremacy, he interrupted her.
“You always do this, you always do this,” Trump said. “I denounce white supremacy, OK?”
At another point, Guthrie asked Trump why he retweeted a wild claim from a Twitter user about the 2011 operation to kill Osama bin Laden, which claimed the death of bin Laden was “fake.”
“Why would you send a lie like that to your followers?” Guthrie asked.
“That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody,” Trump said. “I’ll put it out there, people could decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.”
“You’re the president, you’re not, like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever," she replied.
Guthrie drew praise, particularly from journalists, who said she asked tough follow-up questions and pushed back on Trump’s false claims when he made them.
Given the backlash against @NBCNews for holding its Trump town hall now, there was insane pressure on @savannahguthrie to press @potus at every step. That is exactly what she is doing, to superb effect.— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 16, 2020
.And the winner of the 2020 debate/ town hall cycle is ...@SavannahGuthrie— Sheryl Gay Stolberg (@SherylNYT) October 16, 2020
Via @anniekarni https://t.co/Jx0w5Mfsr9
Sharp, tough questioning by @SavannahGuthrie, who is smartly following up to pin Trump down when he responds with vague or rambling answers.— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) October 16, 2020
The praise was not universal. Following the town hall event, the Trump campaign sent out a press release proclaiming the president “soundly defeated NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in her role as debate opponent and Joe Biden surrogate.”
Trump and Biden appeared at opposite town halls on Thursday in lieu of a debate after the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates decided to move to a virtual format for the second debate due to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
NBC earlier in the week was criticized for deciding to hold the town hall at the same time as a similar ABC event scheduled with Biden. Critics said the decision rewarded Trump for pulling out of the virtual debate where he would have to face his rival directly.
Christina Prignano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.