CBS' town hall could be empty

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

CBS News' unlucky streak when it comes to scheduling primary debates might be continuing into the general election.

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

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.

Organizers — a group of national organizations that help active-duty military, veterans and the survivors of military personnel killed — said 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 Monday there was nothing new to report. 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 was approached by forum organizers to see whether it was interested in carrying it live in primetime. The network said it would and cleared the primetime schedule for that night. (partialdiff)