CNN is facing a backlash its town hall that featured former President Donald Trump, an event that quickly turned into chaos in a strong display of the tightrope faced by journalists covering a leading Republican 2024 candidate who refused to play the rule.
Wednesday’s town hall was the first major televised event of the 2024 presidential campaign, and CNN defended its decision to hold it as an opportunity to put Trump in front of a larger audience. outside the conservative media bubble he’s been kept in since early on. in his presidency.
Critics say the event, staged in front of Republicans and unaffiliated voters expected to vote in the GOP primary, instead turned into a Trump campaign rally and allowed him to repeat the old lie while avoiding difficult questions
Tom Jones, a senior writer at the media research institute Poynter, said he favors the idea of CNN holding the town hall in St. Louis. Anselm College of New Hampshire. But he said he was surprised by the behavior of the audience, which he expected to be more neutral.
Instead, the crowd gave Trump a standing ovation when he walked on stage, applauded some of his most outrageous comments and laughed at many of his jokes, including when he criticized E. Jean Carroll, the advice columnist who accused him of raping her in 1996 and this week won a $5 million verdict against him.
Jones said the atmosphere was set CNN moderator, Kaitlan Collinsin an almost impossible position as he tries to get straight answers from Trump and to check the truth of his comments about the January 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters and the 2020 election, which is still he falsely insisted that he had won.
“Anytime he can get a corner, the audience builds him up,” Jones said. “It just inspired him. He realized, ‘I can do or say anything I want,’ and he was upset at that point through no fault of his own. He was against the whole room.”
The event is an indication of a new era of CNN leadership and management’s efforts to attract the audience who resorted to fox News and other conservative outlets over the past decade.
In a Thursday morning meeting with CNN, Chairman and CEO Chris Licht praised Collins’ “excellent performance,” saying she asked tough questions in tough circumstances.
“If someone is going to ask tough questions and have a heated conversation, that shit should be on CNN,” he said in a recording of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
He also defended the decision to hold the town hall in front of a Trump-friendly figure.
“While we all might feel uncomfortable hearing people cheering, that’s also an important part of the story, because the people in that audience represent a huge swath of America,” Licht said. . “And the mistake the media has made in the past is to ignore that those people are there. Just like you can’t ignore that President Trump is there.”
The event expanded CNN’s audience, at least for one night. Nielson said the town hall averaged 3.3 million viewers, compared to 707,000 who watched CNN in the same time slot the previous night.
But Jones said he doubts the town hall will help CNN’s reputation in the long term, given the backlash. He noted that much of the network’s post-event commentary was highly critical of Trump, likely alienating conservative viewers who were only watching the former president.
Nick Arama, a writer for the conservative website RedState.com, criticized CNN’s Gary Tuchman, who spoke to some audience members after Trump’s appearance, saying “he didn’t act like a moderator trying to get their opinion as a Democrat. propagandist trying to impose his own opinion on them.”
Meanwhile, critics from the left were not spared, saying that CNN should have predicted how chaotic the event would be.
“CNN should be ashamed of themselves. They have lost complete control of this ‘town hall’ to once again manipulate election disinformation, defenses of January 6 and a public attack on victim of sexual abuse. The audience cheered him on and laughed at the host,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, wrote in the tweet.
Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief now at George Washington University, said the event was a sign of the difficult coverage decisions “every news organization has to wrestle with because Donald Trump is not a normal candidate.”
“You can’t ignore him, but you can’t give him carte blanche either,” he said.
A one-on-one interview would be better, though whether Trump would agree to that is a different question, said Sesno, who added that he sees the importance of allowing Trump to speak to a wider audience, including many people who may have generally tuned him out in recent years.
Sesno noted that although Trump’s supporters were happy with his performance, Republican critics, including New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, seized on it to continue their concerns about the former president’s ability to win the a national election.
“As chaotic and strange as the event is, I as a journalist think it’s important for people to see it,” he said.