Several Media Organizations Write Unusual Open Letter Demanding Trump and Biden Debate

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 15, 2024

Several major news organizations have signed an open letter demanding that both Trump and Biden publicly commit to take part in televised debates before the general election in November.

This letter is a strange demand, given the practice of televised presidential debates has become an American tradition for decades. However, it makes sense given the unusual reluctance that both men at different times have expressed for debate participation.

Open Letter

A unified group of media organizations of all stripes signed an open letter demanding the candidates to participate in debates. These groups include big names from wire, print, radio, cable networks, and more.

A fountain pen writes a letter on a sheet of paper.

Source: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBCUniversal News Group, FOX News Media, The Associated Press, NPR, PBS, USA Today, NewsNation, Noticias Univision (Univision Network News), and C-Span all signed the published letter Sunday.

Urging Participation

The letter makes the case that the time is now to get a commitment on presidential debates now that the landscape of the race is clear.

Official White House photograph of President Joe Biden/Official White House photograph of former president Donald Trump

Source: White House/Wikipedia

“With the contours of the 2024 general election now coming into clear focus, we — the undersigned national news organizations — urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election,” the letter said.

Rich Tradition

In the letter, these new organizations argued that televised debates are essential to American democracy.

A single microphone is photographed in the center of the frame.

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“General election debates have a rich tradition in our American democracy, having played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976. In each of those elections, tens of millions have tuned in to watch the candidates debating side by side, in a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens,” said the letter.

Polarizing Time

The letter tries to invoke high stakes for these debates, saying that debates are even more important at a time when Americans have become increasingly politically polarized.

A hand is raised against a backdrop of a cloudy sky and modern buildings, holding up a cardboard sign with the phrase "EQUALITY in DIVERSITY" written in bold black letters

Source: Amy Elting/Unsplash

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high. Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation,” the letter says.

Trump Skipping Debates

During this recent Republican presidential primary, Trump made the unusual move of skipping all four debates. Trump, who had a commanding lead in the polls over his competitors, saw them as a waste of his time.

Donald Trump, with light-complexioned skin and blonde hair, is captured mid-speech, gesticulating with his right hand raised. He is wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and a bright blue tie

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Trump also skipped one of the debates he had with Joe Biden in 2020. It was supposed to be a virtual debate, which Trump didn’t like, electing instead to hold a rally. There were supposed to be a total of three debates among the presidential contenders.


Demanding a Day With Biden

Despite a history of skipping out on debates, Trump has been insistent that Biden agree to debate him, and has called on him to commit publicly to them in the past.

President of the United States Joe Biden sits in front of an American flag and a black background while wearing a blue suit and a red striped tie

Source: Wikipedia Commons

“President Trump has been very clear: he is willing to debate Joe Biden any time, any where, any place. We once again call on Joe Biden to commit to debates,” said Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt.


Biden Hesitant To Debate

Biden has been reluctant to publicly commit to a debate against Trump. Democrats and Biden argue that running a fair debate with Trump is impossible given his attitude.

Joe Biden sits in a chair while speaking into a microphone.

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia

In March, Biden said that a possible debate with Trump will depend on his “behavior.” While Biden has not made any comments ruling out a debate completely, he has tried to frame Trump’s calls for debate as “thirsty for attention.”


Commission on Presidential Debates

Since the 1980s a non-partisan group called the Commission on Presidential Debates has been in charge of organizing and sponsoring these events. Biden’s reluctance to debate may have to do with a doubt that they can run a debate fairly.

Barack Obama sits on the edge while preparing for a debate.

Source: White House/Wikimedia

Republicans have also been critics of this group. In 2022, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted unanimously to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates after accusing them of bias.


Biased Commission

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in April 2022 that the commission cannot be trusted to run a fair debate.

A red graphic of an elephant, symbolizing the Republican Party, with three white stars on its back against a white background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“The Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms to help ensure fair debates including hosting debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage,” McDaniel said.


Americans Voting Earlier

In recent times, Americans have had the option to cast their votes earlier and earlier ahead of November. Voters have also been making their minds up on which candidate to choose long before election day.

Many I Voted stickers on a white surface.

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This trend threatens the prospect of these debates. Debates have to happen after candidates have received official nominations, which means by the time the debates are set up, people in several states have already voted.


Debate Plans

The Commission on Presidential Debates Plans to hold the first debate on September 16 in Texas. The second one is proposed to be held on October 1 at Virginia State University, with the third being held in Utah on October 9.

People wait in a voting line during the 2020 election.

Source: Bart Everson/Wikimedia

Early voting in US states occurs as early as 50 days before the election, with the average early voting start date being 27 days before the election.