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CNN wins eyes, and nays for giving Trump a platform

Media observers have blasted CNN over the network’s broadcast of a Donald Trump town hall event, saying his false claims cannot be repudiated in a live setting.

May 12, 2023
12 May 2023

CNN executives are facing a tsunami of criticism for giving Donald Trump a platform to spread lies in a ‘town hall’ event with the former US president which drew 3.1 million viewers.

The audience counted by Nielsen in preliminary numbers was the largest for CNN since the network’s coverage of the hearings over the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. 

CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins grilled Trump for 70 minutes in front of an audience of New Hampshire Republican voters. It was a rare appearance by Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race, on a media outlet that is not friendly to him.

The crowd gave the event the atmosphere of a Trump rally as members cheered his answers, even when he disparaged E. Jean Carroll, the woman who was recently awarded $5 million after a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing her in 1994.

Trump also repeated his false claims that his 2020 election loss was “rigged” and that then-vice president Mike Pence could have saved him from defeat by not certifying the election.

Collins valiantly battled to correct Trump, but critics said CNN should have known better than to give Trump a forum where it would be impossible to filter out misinformation.

“Live lying works,” Mark Lukasiewicz, said dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. “Live fact-checking does not. Trump is demonstrably unworthy of the risk that CNN chose to take.”

The event was not well-received inside the network, either.

“I was just ashamed,” said one producer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to criticise an employer. “Everybody knows Trump lies. Everybody knows what he’s going to say. His propaganda is what his followers want.”

CNN’s own media reporter, Oliver Darcy, said the event evoked the 2016 campaign, when media outlets gave Trump ample airtime as he rewarded them with big audiences. In the years since, CNN’s then-chief, Jeff Zucker, has repeatedly expressed regret for turning Trump into a ratings attraction.

“It felt like 2016 all over again,” Darcy wrote in his newsletter. “It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.”

The showdown was highly anticipated and heavily scrutinised, as it was to be the first appearance by Trump on CNN since 2016. Trump had long been at war with the network under Zucker, frequently attacking the organisation as “fake news” in response to unfavourable coverage.

Current CNN Chairman Chris Licht has been trying shift the network’s reputation away from being an anti-Trump voice and has attempted to give more airtime to Republicans.

Licht told his staff that he was proud of Collins and the event. He said the public was “served very well by what we did last night” because it let people know what was at stake in the 2024 election.

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