Roxane Gay: Donald Trump’s CNN town hall shows a dysfunctional media

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, it quickly became clear that most of the media was not up to the challenge of covering a candidate who blatantly lied, supported racist ideologies, bragged about sex. attack, and encouraged his supporters to embrace a toxic vision. for America by playing on their fears and insecurities.

Part of the problem is that Trump coverage has been a ratings boon for the struggling news industry—with the “Trump bump” sending record numbers of viewers and readers to newspapers, online publications, and TV shows. This is intoxicating for the industry. News channels are drawn to Trump’s roadshow, famously airing on empty podiums as they await his arrival, instead of going live with his opponent Hillary Clinton who will give a speech about her plans to raise incomes for working families. Newspaper reporters spent countless hours at red state dinners trying to probe the psyche of Trump voters as if they were unfathomable mysteries, instead of people who always express who they are and what they are.

However, the American media establishment was blindsided by Trump’s 2016 victory, and underestimated his ability to implement his far-right agenda as president. While he was in the White House, much of the press fell into euphemisms and false equivalencies, Perry Bacon, Jr. said. was written recently by Washington Post: They “play on Trump’s radicalism to appear neutral and objective, to gain access to Trump and his top aides or to appeal to Republican officials and consumers.” And even now, they continue to favor Trump and traffic in the rhetoric of “both sides” — as if there is more than one side to bigotry.

After Trump lost the 2020 election, sparked an insurrection, and continues, to this day, to promote the “big lie,” that he was robbed of a second term as president, I dare hope that the media has learned its lesson if how to cover Trump on the campaign trail.

In these early days of the 2024 election cycle, however, no one seems to know.

Trump looked exhausted when he walked on stage in New Hampshire for a CNN town hall on Wednesday, appearing to wear every bit of his 76 years. The other day, a federal jury found him liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s, and then defaming her. However, CNN chose to continue the event on television, hosted by This morning anchor and chief reporter Kaitlan Collins in front of an audience of Republican and Independent voters who wanted to vote for her—an unusual choice, at best.

From the first moment to the sudden end, Trump is exactly what he has long revealed himself to be.

The candidate is bombastic, arrogant, and rude. He lied many times. When Collins, who is understood to be well-prepared and well-versed in all political issues, corrects her lies in real time, she tells him, grinning as she declares that her wrong version of the truth is the last one. word on everything from election fraud to the January 6 insurrection to the debt ceiling. He continues to humiliate Carroll (who now says he is thinking of suing him again). And except for the final minutes of the town hall, Collins was rendered helpless in the face of the former president’s performance—just as he and his camp would have liked.

Sometimes, Trump is like an idiot, who doesn’t make any sense. At the right moments, he threw out words that were sure to shock his base. Radical. border. Patriot. Damn man. He rarely answers the question being asked, instead using each one as an invitation to continue talking about whatever he wants. The audience clapped and laughed and clapped and laughed. That is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of the prime time TV event, watched by 3.3 million people.

But the morning after this disaster was more disappointing, perhaps, when the chairman of CNN, Chris Licht, congratulated Collins on “a masterful performance” and himself for his courage to air it. “I absolutely, unequivocally believe that America was well served by what we did last night,” he said on the network’s morning editorial call. He went on to say that “Kaitlan pushed him over and over, and made news, made a lot of news.”

Let’s be clear: Media organizations are, for the most part, businesses. They are struggling with businesses in the midst of a downward spiral, which makes it difficult to walk away from a scene that brings them many viewers, even if the scene is harmful, damaging to democracy, and criminal. Any of CNN’s rival networks would likely jump at the chance to air the town hall. I want to believe, however, that they can do it with a little more integrity.

Most media enterprises employ well-known journalists who know how to call out liars and criminals—many CNN did it, criticized their own employers. But those people, who do the right thing and hold the power to settle, cannot compete with the scene. Trump and people like him know this, which is why they rarely face the press without bringing their own circus to town.

This town hall will consume people’s attention until we move on to the next scene. But there are more critical issues we need to address: That Trump remains ahead of his party by a wide margin; that the GOP considers him a viable candidate despite everything that has happened; that his base remains unwaveringly loyal to him. These are real problems. In the face of all that, the fact that CNN gives him a primetime platform for monologue lies and misinformation, thereby giving legitimacy to his ideological views, is a real problem.

In the cycle of discourse that followed the town hall, some scholars raised the specter of ideological silos—warned those who criticized Wednesday’s joke that we shouldn’t just surround ourselves with people who reflect our values ​​and beliefs. But what we find pathetic is that Trump doesn’t live in a silo. We fully see and understand that half the country is fine with who Trump is and what he stands for.

Bigotry is not just a different opinion that we should expose ourselves to. This is not an intellectual exercise or a useful contribution to different perspectives. It is an evil that must be eradicated. It should be recognized as unacceptable, as often as necessary. And the media must be deprived of oxygen. Freedom of speech does not guarantee unfettered access to media coverage.

Time and time again, journalists have said they just don’t know how to cover Trump, that he’s impossible to cover. But it was impossible for him to cover with he received an inordinate amount of media attention that he so desperately desired. He’s impossible to cover because he does everything he wants, and no one really challenges him. He is impossible to cover because we continue to let him dictate the terms of engagement.

It’s time to stop. If the statement is really about the truth, there is no news about giving free airtime to the prime minister of mendacity. Trump has been found guilty of crimes and faces several other criminal investigations. He despised democracy and openly embraced autocracy.

There must be standards for people who aspire to lead the United States. Donald Trump doesn’t meet those standards, by any measure. We must stop using euphemisms when it comes to his words and actions. Let’s stop pretending that because he is the leading candidate, what he has to say is automatically newsworthy. If he refuses to tell the truth or acknowledge the election results, he should simply stop the interview and walk away. Enough is enough; so much is at stake. We must protect, at all costs, the many vulnerable populations that will be made less safe by a second Trump presidency. Regardless of what we believe in or what party we align with, we must want the best for this country, for our communities, for the world we are a part of.

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