On Wednesday night, the “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 10 minutes and 43 seconds over four segments on their evening newscasts to 2016 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s decision to boycott Thursday’s Fox News Channel (FNC) debate and, in that coverage, ABC and NBC hailed Trump as a “renegade” making “a very shrewd move” by “eviscerating” moderator Megyn Kelly and FNC.
ABC’s World News Tonight led with a four-minute-and-19-second report from Republican campaign correspondent Tom Llamas boasting that the billionaire was “in full renegade mode” when he ruled the night before that “without him, no one will watch tomorrow's debate on Fox News.”
Citing the “bad blood” with Kelly that began when Trump asked him about factual things he said about women he disliked, Llamas quoted portions of a statement Fox News released that joked about Trump “replac[ing] the Cabinet with his Twitter followers” before gushing about “Trump’s fury” being “in full frame” on Tuesday as he “eviscerat[ed] Fox News, Kelly, and her boss, Roger Ailes.”
Llamas used a portion of his final few seconds to spin the line from Trump’s campaign “that their supporters will understand why Donald Trump had to make this decision” and since “Trump wrote the book The Art of the Deal,” he feels as though “this debate was a bad deal.”
Over on NBC Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt hyped in an opening tease that Trump’s “standoff” with FNC had bred “[a]n intense drama.”
As part of Trump correspondent Katy Tur’s lead story, Bloomberg TV/MSNBC’s With All Due Respect co-host Mark Halperin doubled down on his sentiment from NBC’s Today that this was a smart move by Trump:
If Trump is running any risk, it's that some voters in Iowa may say this is immature. But I think that risk is relatively small, particularly for the people already supporting Trump who will look at this not as a petulant move but as a move of strength.
Providing analysis in a separate segment at the conclusion of NBC’s 2016 reports, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd opined that “Iowans could be offended” by the boycott, but added that “it could be a shrewd move” because “debates haven't been Donald Trump's best moments.”
Todd went onto explain this thinking by pointing out that six of the other candidates on the mainstage might use the opportunity to go after the second place candidate in Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Tex.).
“Are they going to continue going after Donald Trump or they going to start piling on Ted Cruz and who benefits more from that? Donald Trump. This could end up being a very shrewd move by the frontrunner,” Todd concluded.
The relevant portions of the transcript from ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on January 27 can be found below.
ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
January 27, 2016
6:31 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Countdown to Iowa; Trump’s No-Show]
DAVID MUIR: And we begin with breaking developments in the race for 2016. Donald Trump saying he will not show up at the Fox News debate and just moments ago, revealing what he will do instead. Trump announcing he will hold his own event for veterans. Members of Trump's family will be attending with him. All of this comes after his heated feud with Fox News and moderator Megyn Kelly. Kelly not backing down, and what she's saying tonight and the big question this evening, will this help him, could it hurt him among Iowa voters? A new poll out tonight shows Trump in the lead in Iowa. ABC's Tom Llamas leading us off from the campaign trail.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Race for 2016; The Big No-Show; Trump to Skip GOP Debate]
TOM LLAMAS: Tonight, Donald Trump in full renegade mode, predicting without him, no one will watch tomorrow's debate on Fox News.
DONALD TRUMP: They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else.
LLAMAS: Part of Trump's problem? Fox anchor and debate moderator, Megyn Kelly.
TRUMP: I'm not a fan of Megyn Kelly. I think she's a third rate reporter. I think she frankly is not good at what she does and I think they could do a lot better than Megyn Kelly.
LLAMAS: Their bad blood started with this question at the first debate.
LLAMAS: As tomorrow's debate approached, Trump hinted he might not go.
TRUMP [in video]: Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?
LLAMAS: Fox News responded with this snarky statement: “We learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly...Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers.” Just hours later, at a news conference, Trump's fury in full frame. The GOP frontrunner, eviscerating Fox News, Kelly, and her boss, Roger Ailes.
TRUMP: When they sent out the wise guy press releases a little while ago, done by some PR person, along with Roger Ailes, I said, bye-bye.
LLAMAS: This morning, Trump not ready to move on, tweeting: “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!” The Kelly/Trump relationship, not always so toxic. A lot of love on display in 2011, when Kelly interviewed Trump about his plans to host his own candidate's forum.
KELLY [on FNC’s America Live, December 2011]: Do you really think that you're a better moderator than I am?
TRUMP [on FNC’s America Live, December 2011]: No, I could never beat you. That wouldn't even be close. There would be no contest. You have done a great job, by the way and I mean it.
LLAMAS: Today, Kelly saying she still thinks Trump will show tomorrow.
KELLY [on Entertainment Tonight, 01/27/16]: I'll be surprised if he doesn't come. I know he says he doesn't want to, but I'll really be surprised.
MUIR: Tom, a lot of talk, would there be an empty podium tomorrow night. Fox News now saying they will remove it, but you've been talking to the Trump campaign. Are they at all worried that this could hurt them by not showing up?
LLAMAS: No, David, they're not. The Trump campaign is confident that their supporters will understand why Donald Trump had to make this decision. The campaign says that Trump wrote the book, The Art of the Deal and this debate was a bad deal. That said, he's taking more heat tonight. Senator John McCain tonight, critical of the event that Trump is hosting in place of the debate, saying “I wish he were not using a veterans event as a way to further his own political agenda.”