Chaotic presidential debate watched by nearly 70 million viewers, far short of expectations

Tribune Content Agency

The TV audience for the widely panned first presidential debate on Tuesday between President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, fell short of expectations.

Preliminary Nielsen data for the live 90-minute showdown from Case Western University in Cleveland was watched by an average of nearly 70 million viewers.

The official tally to be issued later Wednesday will fall dramatically below the all-time high of 84 million who tuned in on Sept. 26, 2016, to watch Trump’s first meeting against Hillary Clinton.

Many pundits predicted a record-setting number. Instead, the chaotic slugfest — described by political analysts and Biden as a national embarrassment — may have been a turnoff.

Trump frequently interrupted and badgered Biden. He also hectored debate moderator Chris Wallace, an anchor on the president’s favored cable channel Fox News, who battled at times to keep the proceedings under control.

Wallace offered Trump an ample opportunity to denounce white supremacists. Trump’s failure to do so and his apparent call for Proud Boys, a far right group to “stand by,” became the major post-debate story.

Biden responded in testy exchanges by calling the president a clown and telling him to shut up. On Twitter, Trump criticized Wallace, accusing him of aiding Biden in the debate.

Fox News had the most viewers of any network with 17.8 million. ABC was second with 12.6 million viewers, followed by NBC (9.7 million), CNN (8.1 million), MSNBC (7.2 million), CBS (6.4 million), the Fox broadcast network (5.4 million), Fox Business Network (758,000) and CNN Espanol (95,000).

The debate also aired on WGN America, PBS, Univision, Telemundo and other smaller outlets. Nielsen will release a total including those figures later Wednesday.

Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate two more times, on Oct. 15 in Miami and Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee. Vice President Mike Pence will debate Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris of California on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said Tuesday that it will consider format changes in the future meetings.

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the commission said in a statement. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”


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