CBS' town hall could be empty

Scheduled debate might fold if Obama can't make the date

NEW YORK -- CBS News' unlucky streak when it comes to scheduling primary debates may be continuing into the general election.

The network tentatively agreed to produce and air on Monday, Aug. 11, a televised town hall meeting in primetime between GOP candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama. But there's only one problem: Obama hasn't committed, citing scheduling issues. That has thrown into doubt the whole thing.

The McCain campaign has readily agreed to appear at the forum on military and veterans issues sponsored by a number of organizations, but that's not going to be enough to allow CBS to televise it. Both candidates would have to participate for the network to be able to carry it.

And the organizers -- a group of national organizations that help active-duty military, veterans and the survivors of military personnel killed -- say they want to hear from both candidates, not just one.

"The important thing for us is that this happens, and that there's this focus on military and veterans and their families and the legacy of war," said Amy Fairweather of the San Francisco-based Swords to Plowshares, one of the organizers. "If that means that things have to be changed as far as the date or logistics or the format or anything like that, that's absolutely fine."

CBS News said on Monday there was nothing new to report on the issue. It isn't clear whether CBS will be able to clear a space on another night if both candidates are able to agree. The 2008 Fort Hood Presidential Town Hall Consortium was to be held at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, Texas, near the army base.

The network had been approached by the organizers of the forum if it would be interested in carrying it live in primetime. The network responded that it would and cleared the primetime for that night.

CBS was the only network news division that was unable to assemble a debate of presidential candidates during this primary season. It tried several times but couldn't air a December Democratic debate in Los Angeles because of the WGA strike, and one earlier this year in North Carolina was scrapped after Obama wouldn't agree to the day scheduled.