CNN has drawn harsh criticism from media experts and observers for agreeing to host and broadcast a town hall-style event next week for former President Donald Trump.
“There is no reason to give the biggest pathological liar in politics a platform to spread his bullshit,” said Scott Dworkin, executive director for the Democratic Coalition, responding to CNN’s announcement of the town hall.
CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins will host the event on May 10 at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire before an audience of undecided Republican-leaning voters in the state ahead of the GOP primary election next year.
The event —Trump’s first town hall-style event for the 2024 presidential election cycle — will feature the former president fielding questions from a network he frequently belittles, and which he refused to give a single one-on-one interview to during his presidency.
According to a Trump adviser, the network billed the event to Trump in a way that compelled him to say yes, which has led observers to raise question about whether the event will make a serious effort to hold the former president accountable for his attempts to overturn and delegitimize the 2020 election.
CNN political director David Chalian has said the network is in talks to hold similar events with other candidates for the 2024 presidential election. So far, no other candidate has made an agreement to appear on CNN for a town hall.
Critics were outspoken about the fact that the network was giving a platform to a former elected official who faces multiple indictments and inquiries related to his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump, for example, tried to convince state officials to illegitimately “find” him more votes in order to overtake Biden’s totals in a state the current president had won, and Trump’s campaign also coordinated fake electors to disrupt the counting of the Electoral College. The former president also stood idly by for hours as a mob of his loyalists attacked the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, the same day the Electoral College was being certified by Congress.
“Wow. They’re giving a live primetime platform to an indicted insurrection-inciter, who also incited violence against their network,” remarked MSNBC anchor Mehdi Hasan.
Hasan added that CNN’s action demonstrated that much of the U.S. media have not “learned lessons from 2016 and 2020.”
Some critics tried to give CNN the benefit of the doubt, while also stating that the network had an obligation to hold Trump accountable for his anti-democratic and fascistic actions.
“Trump has been repeating the same torrent of lies in his speeches and interviews with rightwing media figures for months. Nothing he will say will be new,” said Angelo Carusone, chief executive of Media Matters for America. “So if CNN lets him get away with it unchallenged, they have no excuse. CNN isn’t being graded on a curve here.”
“CNN doing a Trump town hall is irresponsible,” opined Daily Beast columnist David Rothkopf. “That said it’ll also be a litmus test as to whether CNN seeks to be taken seriously as a journalistic organization going forward. Failing to address the coup attempt, his legal woes, his impeachments, his lies will be disqualifying.”
“Ratings-starved CNN is doing a Trump town hall next week. … The way it’s handled will be very telling,” independent journalist Aaron Rupar said.
Speculation that CNN is chasing ratings by booking Trump appears to be based on the network’s performance since the former president left office. While viewership of cable news networks went down last year by about 19 percent on average, it sank by about 47 percent for CNN. That slip in ratings has continued into this year when, in February, CNN saw its lowest numbers in a decade, dropping by 42 percent in the 25-54 demographic compared to the year prior.
Other networks and news divisions have described wall-to-wall coverage of Trump as good for their bottom lines. Disgraced former CBS executive chairman said as much in 2016, during Trump’s first presidential run. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves said at the time.
Newspapers, recognizing that they too could profit from a Trump presidency (even if that meant glossing over or minimizing his mistakes while in office), also candidly noted that covering Trump ad nauseam would improve their sales.
Prem Thakker, a reporter for The New Republic, lambasted CNN for what is evidently a quest for higher ratings. Within that quest, the network is “giving open air to a man who warrants none of it,” Thakker wrote, adding that this time, Trump is “coming with every despicable act America, and the world, has witnessed since CNN helped manufacture tolerance for him eight years ago.”
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