Even in the profoundly compromised realms of politics and cable TV, rarely is the quid pro quo as obvious as the one involved in MSNBC's announcement today that it will telecast a prime-time town hall tomorrow night featuring Donald Trump and "Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
I have been writing since August about the way Scarborough has been using his daily show to shill for Trump. You can read some of that here and here and see a video from a discussion Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources" here. Scarborough seems proud of being Trump's poodle.
And now, Trump pays Scarborough back by appearing in a town hall on MSNBC while Anderson Cooper will be hosting a town hall on CNN with three of Trump's rivals: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson.
Trump will be on CNN Thursday night with Cooper and rivals John Kasich and Jeb Bush in a town hall announced last week.
And the duel will continue Thursday with MSNBC hosting a town hall with the two Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. José Díaz-Balart and Chuck Todd will moderate in Las Vegas.
It will be fascinating to see if Trump's presence lifts MSNBC over CNN in prime time tomorrow. I am guessing it will, which will give Trump more bragging rights. And that is just what he needs, isn't it?
I couldn't care less about all the back-and-forth programming and counterprogramming between CNN and MSNBC. But I hate the way forums that are supposed to serve voters and the democratic process are being commercialized in this election year and used as weapons by candidates like Trump to reward or punish channels that do or do not play ball.
Most of all, I hate channels playing along -- or allowing themselves to be played that way. There is a difference in being the sole focus of a prime-time town hall as opposed to dividing the airtime and the audience's focus three different ways. Even at an hour in length, a solo, prime-time "town hall" for any candidate seems excessive to me.