After promoting an upcoming episode of Law & Order SVU that features a Trump-like character, NBC has pulled the episode from air. The episode stars Gary Cole as a wealthy presidential candidate whose run for the White House is met with sexual assault allegations. The show was scheduled to air October 26, after being moved from an earlier date, and has now been postponed until after the election.
The decision to pull the episode follows the release of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tapes and the multitude of sexual assault accusations that have subsequently been levied against Trump. NBC’s role in this scandal is a complicated one. Sources say NBC had knowledge of the tape but did not release it, rather publishing a full article immediately after its leak. Others claim that someone from NBC actually leaked the tape. Following the tape’s release, NBC’s only move has been to fire Billy Bush for his involvement.
NBC has not commented on why they decided to postpone the episode or when the new airdate will be. However, since the network is so directly involved in Trump’s recent scandals, it may come across as distasteful to portray a fictionalized account of these events in a television episode. NBC may be choosing to back off and allow the aftermath of the past couple weeks to play out without appearing to take a political stance on the issue. It’s also likely that the episode was written and filmed before Trump was met with his own sexual assault allegations, which means the network probably did not intend for the story-line to so closely mirror reality. NBC may have decided it is unfair to the women who came forward to depict their realities in a fictional setting like this.
NBC’s inability to definitively decide whether or not this episode will air highlights an interesting dynamic in the media, particularly in this election. As a large network, NBC covers and interacts with the election in many different ways. They are involved with media coverage of the candidates’ scandals, in particular Trump’s most recent one, and their journalists play individual roles in the election as well. Most recently, NBC’s Lester Holt moderated the first presidential debate as an unbiased third party. However, these journalistic endeavors can come in conflict with the network’s other programs; when SVU portrays Trump through a new character or Saturday Night Live satirizes the candidates through a debate sketch, these programs represent the network as well.
This conflict of interest raises the issue of objectivity in the media. Ideally, the media is expected to remain unbiased; if NBC chose to air an episode that overtly opposed Trump, their integrity may be called into question as they report on a new election development or Lester Holt moderates the debate. At the same time, some may argue that there is a time and place for the media to voice their opinion, and this election could be it. In recent weeks, newspapers who have historically remained neutral have publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton because they feel strongly that Donald Trump is not fit to be president.
Considering NBC’s multi-faceted involvement in the election and in Trump’s most recent scandals, it is certainly possible that the episode may not make it to air at all. Ultimately, the network is choosing to err on the side of caution by delaying the episode for now and attempting to downplay their role in shaping this election season.