An image tweeted earlier this afternoon by
NBC News PR of the debate set under construction.
It's unclear what the real story is here, but NBC has apparently canceled its plans to air Monday's Republican debate in Tampa—and the reason could be Mitt Romney's refusal to commit to the debate. Central Florida News 13 reports
NBC News has informed their local affiliates the GOP presidential debate planned to air nationally Monday night from Tampa will be replaced with regularly scheduled programming.
The change was confirmed by Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA News Channel 8 News Director Don North.
According to North, the debate will be replaced on the schedule with the "Fear Factor" and "Rock Center" shows.
The debate was scheduled to air from the University of South Florida from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday night.
North said Mitt Romney and his campaign have yet to commit to taking part in the debate.
NBC News, WFLA and USF have not confirmed if the debate has been cancelled.
It's not clear if the debate would proceed without Romney's participation, even if only for the benefit of MSNBC or local viewers. An NBC News PR director tweeted a photo of the set earlier in the afternoon, adding to the lack of clarity.
Given the confusion surrounding what is actually going on with the debate, it's a mistake to draw any conclusions, but at this point it's not looking good for either Mitt Romney, who appears to be scared of debating Newt Gingrich, or NBC, which should continue to air the debate as long as Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum plan to attend, even if Mitt Romney chooses to skip it.
1:30 PM PT: NBC's PR person told Politico's Dylan Byers that NBC plans to move forward with the debate, but it does not appear on any primetime schedules.
NBC is denying reports that it plans to cancel this Monday's GOP debate in Tampa Bay, Florida, because Mitt Romney has not yet committed to participating.
"Preparations for the NBC News, National Journal, Tampa Bay Times debate continue," NBC spokesperson Erika Masonhall told me. "We fully intend to proceed with this long-planned event and we hope and expect all the qualifying candidates will participate."
But as of this afternoon, NBC has left the standard Monday program listings in place -- "Fear Factor" at 9 p.m. and "Rock Center" at 10 p.m. -- a decision the network attributs to an abundance of caution. The network says those listings will be updated with more timely information as it becomes known.
If it plans to proceed with or without Romney, I don't know what NBC is being cautious about. And as Byers notes, the real caution here is coming from Romney:
"There are too many of these," Romney campaign strategist Stuart Stevens told Byron York in the CNN debate spin room last night. "We have to bring some order to it. We haven't accepted Florida…It's kind of like a cruise that's gone on too long."
It's ironic that one of the shows NBC may end up airing is "Fear Factor." Because by all appearances, that's exactly what Mitt Romney's refusal to commit is all about.