With its Republican presidential town hall on Wednesday, CNN failed journalism, the American public, and its own employees by deciding to invite an arsonist who has spent the past seven years trying to burn down their house.
We should remember that Trump regularly refers to CNN as “fake news,” and has trained his cult to see all media that is critical of him as the “enemy of the people.” As a result, CNN had to evacuate its NYC headquarters in 2018 due to a bomb threat. The next year, Cesar Sayoc, who sent functional pipe bombs to Trump’s critics, including CNN, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In turn, CNN decided to reward Trump for his reckless and dangerous behavior by giving him a 70-minute Festivus to air his grievances and lies in front of a fawning cult of 400 sycophants in New Hampshire, which reflected the full spectrum of whiteness and cruelty.
According to NPR, CNN’s current CEO Chris Licht “told his staff they are re-establishing the channel’s original identity.” After witnessing this embarrassing town hall, one could not be faulted for assuming Licht believes that identity is one of masochism and self-immolation. These are apparently the character traits that are needed to gain ratings, money, and access to GOP power. When CNN anchor and moderator Kaitlin Collins attempted to interject with actual facts, Trump simply doubled down on his bullshit and gave red meat in the form of rage, lies, and conspiracies, which the audience and his MAGA base heartily ate up. An hour into the circus, Trump called Collins a “nasty person”—simply because she stood her ground and asked follow-up questions.
The MAGA audience loved it.
David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, defended the town hall on CNBC last week and said that “all voices should be heard on CNN.” This apparently includes the voices of white nationalists, anti semites, conspiracy theorists, and misogynists. He added, “This is a new CNN.”
To make matters worse, a day after Donald Trump was held liable by a jury of his peers for sexual battery and defamation against journalist E. Jean Carroll, CNN’s new leadership deemed it wise to let the twice-impeached vulgarian mock Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in a department store in the mid-1990s. He said he has never met “this woman” in his life, but a jury of his peers disagreed. At the town hall, Trump doubled down on what seemed like his only defense, which was that people have “let” celebrities like him get away with “grabbing women by the pussy” for “a million years” – “unfortunately or fortunately.” Trump bragged that his poll numbers went up after the verdict. The audience, which allegedly included “independents,” laughed and clapped.
In defense of the Dobbs case, Trump took full credit for the Supreme Court decision and boasted he did more for the “pro-life” movement than any other president in the past 50 years. He repeated the hateful and dangerous lie that, pre-Dobbs, babies were being killed after birth. He said this three times, and Collins failed to correct him each time.
Congratulations, Licht and Zaslav. Bravo! What a wonderful precedent to set for your employees, especially the women who work at the “new CNN.”
When it came to lies, Trump was a firehose. Collins tried her best to counter, but it was like standing in a hurricane holding an umbrella. No matter how hard you try, you’re going to get wet.
Trump spent the entirety of the Town Hall repeating his Big Lie and election fraud conspiracies, which radicalized members of his base to attack the U.S. Capitol and support a failed coup against the United States. Last year, David DePape, who was in part radicalized by this lie and other right-wing media conspiracies, tried to finish the job by visiting Nancy Pelosi’s home and attacking her husband, Paul Pelosi. Trump said he was inclined to pardon “many” of the violent Jan. 6 insurrectionists, adding: “many are great people.” These are individuals who called for the execution of his own Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump again blamed Wednesday night for not going along with the failed coup attempt.
He also managed to lionize Ashli Babbit, who was shot and killed by a Capitol Hill police officer as she was trying to illegally enter the building. Trump praised her and called the officer, who happens to be Black, a “thug.” Trump then made a both-sides equivalence between the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and BLM protestors, who were overwhelmingly peaceful and simply demanded that police officers refrain from shooting and killing innocent Black people. Trump’s comment went unchallenged.
In 2023, a majority of Republican voters now believe in the Big Lie and the anti-semitic deep state conspiracy that posits that there’s a coordinated group of government bureaucrats oppressing Trump and MAGA supporters. Who could have imagined that Trump would showboat, self-aggrandize, and bulldoze over truth and facts—except for anybody who has actually paid attention? Apparently, these are the same people who are shocked that a face-eating leopard would actually eat people’s faces.
The Town Hall was, however, an important reminder of the Upside Down where the entire conservative movement now currently resides. In this perverse and deplorable Earth-3, the election was “rigged” against Trump, Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the failure of law enforcement to stop the violent insurrections, and Trump “completed” his wall, which, of course, was never completed. Also, the economy was apparently thriving during the Trump Administration, even though he ballooned the deficit and debt. Trump also claimed that he alone can end the Russia-Ukraine war—in one day—if elected again. When asked if Trump still wants to terminate the Constitution, he said he wouldn’t—even though he recently posted he would on Truth Social.
So, what did we learn after this CNN town hall? What was gained from giving Trump a 70-minute platform to spew lies and bullshit? How did this help inform Americans about the truth? How did it help defend democracy? How did it help CNN gain right-wing viewers, especially as their own anchor was humiliated and mocked by Trump in front of 400 Trump supporters?
The town hall was so shameful that the after-event panel, featuring seven commentators and hosted by Anderson Cooper, was roundly outraged by what they heard.
Hopefully the money and ratings were worth the masochism and self-immolation.
The Daily Beast