During Wednesday night’s live 70 Minutes at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, the former president repeatedly dodged or scoffed at questions from CNN’s moderator Kaitlan Collins. He doubled down on false claims that a “rigged election” led to his ouster in 2020, and writer E. Jean referred to Carroll, who won her lawsuit against him for defamation and battery, as a “whack job” to cheers and laughter. From the audience, made up of local Republican voters.
When Collins pressed him on why he removed classified documents from the White House, he replied: “You’re a terrible person.”
“Predictable Disaster” Former network television news executive Mark Lukasiewicz wrote, part of a chorus of media critics and political observers who lamented the spectacle they were witnessing. “Live fake jobs. A friendly MAGA crowd keeps laughing, clapping at Trump’s punchlines … and the moderator can’t keep up with the pace of AR-15 lies.”
At a time when CNN is struggling to reverse viewership declines, the broadcast ratings were disappointing, with Nielsen reporting just 3.1 million viewers overall. That was a bigger boost than CNN’s regular 8 p.m. broadcast, but fewer viewers than CNN’s town hall with President Biden last summer (3.7 million) and six previous Trump town halls hosted by Fox News — calling into question CNN and Trump’s drawing power.
The most profound impact, however, may be the damage to the reputation of a network that has long promoted itself.Most trusted name in news.” It also raised questions about the future prospects of chief executive Chris Licht, who replaced Jeff Zucker, a friend-turned-critic of Trump last year.
CNN and journalists outside the organization called the town hall a “failure.”Disaster“and”CNN’s lowest moment.” On Twitter, the hashtags and phrases BoycottCNN, DoneWithCNN and ByeCNN trended late Wednesday.
The crux of the criticism is that CNN’s format, used by other candidates over the years, trumps Trump’s filibustering and real-time fact-checking. “Given the absolute control of the stage and WWE-style platform dynamics, the terrible truth is that this decision was predetermined.” Tweeted Veteran political writer James Fallows. Some have compared the program to a modified Trump campaign rally — which CNN sometimes aired live during the 2015-16 campaign cycle, which Zucker Later he regretted it.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tried and tried to debunk Trump’s election lies
Licht defended the decision to host Trump in this format during his regular morning meeting with network staff on Thursday.
“I know there are people with opinions [and] Backlash, that’s totally expected,” he said, according to an audio recording. “And let me be as clear as I can: You don’t have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say we didn’t get them. … America was very well served by what we did last night. People have woken up and they know what is at stake in this election unlike the previous day.
Licht praised Collins’ “superb performance” as moderator and called her “a rock star”.
However, Licht was attacked by his own journalists. “We made a mistake,” said one on-air person. “We treated him like a normal politician who could verify the truth. We danced around a talking point.
“It should have been a taped interview where you could fact-check him,” said one CNN reporter, who spoke like an on-air personality on the condition of anonymity to protect relationships and careers. “The audience laughed at his comments about Jean Carroll. Disgraceful.”
In his meeting with staff, Licht defended the decisions that led to a raucous, partisan audience: “That was also an important part of the story because that audience represents a large part of America. The mistake the media has made in the past is to ignore those people.
Another employee, speaking in the context of avoiding retaliation, suggested that Licht and other executives who authorized the incident should resign.
That seems an unlikely outcome — for now. At least publicly, Licht has the support of his boss, Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zasla. When reached for comment Thursday, a company spokeswoman pointed to Zaslav’s interview on CNBC last week, in which he stood by his lieutenants and brushed off some of the criticism that erupted after the town hall was announced. (“We have a divided government. Right? We need to hear both voices,” Zaslau said at the time. “All voices need to be heard.”)
An executive close to Sasla said the board and executives both understand the news business is tough right now and are willing to give CNN enough time to find its footing.
Nevertheless, Trump Town Hall is shaping up to be another disappointment under Lich’s watch. Despite CNN’s daily lineup and mandate to turn the network into a neutral news anchor, Licht couldn’t stop its ratings from plummeting to historic lows.
Licht’s signature programming effort, the redesign of CNN’s morning show, fell apart last month with the firing of co-anchor Dan Lemon. Collins, a rising star at the network, was moved to mornings to co-anchor last fall. Insiders expect him to be promoted to the 9 p.m. slot, which hasn’t had a permanent host since CNN fired Chris Cuomo in December 2021. And a person close to the decision said the town hall controversy won’t change. Licht plans for her.
CNN’s daily media newsletter, Reliable Sources, was blunt in its assessment of Wednesday’s event. “It’s hard to see how America was served by the display of lies broadcast on CNN Wednesday evening,” reporter Oliver Darcy wrote Wednesday night.
But the panel of analysts and commentators CNN aired late Wednesday to assess Trump’s performance at the town hall (“We don’t have enough time to fact-check every lie he’s told,” host Jake Tapper said) had nothing to say. It is the network’s own decision to host the forum.
At least one of the network’s paid commentators went public with his objections before the Trump special aired. U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanon, who was injured while guarding the Capitol during the January 6, 2021 riots, wrote. An article published by Rolling Stone This indicates the end of programming.
“Putting him on the stage, answering questions like a normal candidate who wouldn’t kill people trying to end the democracy he’s trying to restore, normalizes what Trump did,” Fanon wrote. “It sends the message that trying to change is part of the process; that acceptance of election results is a choice; Rejecting them has no consequences in the media or in politics or anywhere else.
In an interview last week, CNN political director David Salian justified the event, saying that Trump is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination and that his “unique” status as the twice-impeached, Jan-inciting former president 6 Capitol riots doesn’t change the network’s journalistic mission.
“It would be hard for you to say [the format] “It’s less revealing than interviewing each other,” he said.
Salian did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. “I think Chris captured our position very well this morning,” CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said in an email. [editorial] Meeting.”
Trump expressed satisfaction with the event. “I hope everyone enjoyed CNN tonight,” he wrote on his social media site, Truth Social. “The New Hampshire audience was amazing. Thank you!”
But inside CNN, the mood was bleak.
“I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea,” said one employee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid career repercussions. “I have been a CNN journalist for many years. I’m always proud to say that. I’ve never been ashamed of CNN until tonight.
Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison contributed to this report.
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