The aftermath of the ill-conceived CNN town hall with Donald Trump affirmed the most pessimistic projections offered beforehand. Trump was himself. That is to say, he was a dishonest, hostile, bloviating bully. Is there any reason that CNN should have expected anything else?
The town hall was bad idea from the start. A reputable news enterprise would never provide such a forum to a candidate credibly charged with sexual abuse, tax fraud, election interference, and seditious conspiracy. Yet somehow CNN was comfortable with presenting this televised Trump rally, complete with an audience of “Republicans and undeclared voters who plan to vote in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.” You have to wonder precisely what CNN offered Trump to get him to agree to appear on a network that he regards as “fake news” and insists that nobody watches.
Predictably, the program failed on every level. It was neither informative on Trump’s policies, nor revealing of his principles. It merely rehashed everything that everyone already knows about him. The moderator, Kaitlan Collins, made some attempts to fact-check Trump, but not nearly enough. It was so useless that even some of CNN’s anchors and analysts were repulsed. Immediately following the town hall, Jake Tapper gave a scathing summation that concluded that “We don’t have enough time to fact-check every lie he told.” So why air it in the first place?
Jake Tapper sums up Trump's town hall: "He called a black law enforcement officer a thug. He said people here in Washington, D.C. and Chinatown don’t speak English. He attacked Kaitlan as a nasty woman… he made fun of [Carrol's] sexual assault and many in the audience laughed." pic.twitter.com/NSzVzVEApP
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) May 11, 2023
CNN’s media correspondent, Oliver Darcy, tweeted that “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.” And that was just the beginning. CNN published an article enumerating “8 takeaways from Trump’s CNN town hall.” And each one affirmed Trump’s unfitness for office. The article began by noting that Trump…
“…showed on Wednesday night that he is very much the same person Americans came to know in 2016, throughout his four years in office, and in the aftermath of his 2020 election defeat. […] When he wasn’t calling women names, airing old grievances or attempting to rewrite history, the former president largely dodged questions and follow-up inquiries [and that] Unsurprisingly, the mostly Trump-loyal audience lapped it up.”
Considering that analysis from CNN itself, what was the point of the whole thing? It didn’t advance the public’s knowledge or ability to assess Trump’s candidacy. The 8 takeaways were all examples of Trump’s ignorance and artifice. Let’s explore them little deeper…
- “Trump makes dismissive comments about [E. Jean] Carroll.”
Trump “denied the accusations and again said he had never met Carroll. [and the audience] laughed at his jokes and other dismissive comments about Carroll.” He also called her a “whack job,” defaming her anew.
- “Trump says GOP should be willing to blow up debt ceiling.”
Trump “insisted that default would be preferable to a result that doesn’t stop the government ‘spending money like drunken sailors.'” He also laughed off his hypocrisy about opposing using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge while he was president.
- “Trump is vague on federal abortion ban.”
“Trump repeatedly ducked questions about whether he would sign into law a federal abortion ban, as well as after how many weeks into a pregnancy abortion should be made illegal.” He also lied that Democrats support infanticide.
- “Trump doesn’t say if he would back Ukraine in war with Russia.”
“Trump refused to say whether he wanted Ukraine to prevail in its war with invading Russia.” He also refused to criticize his BFF, Vladimir Putin, for the war crimes of slaughtering civilians.
- “Trump says he’d pardon January 6 rioters.”
“Trump demonstrated no remorse for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol [and] said he was ‘inclined to pardon’ many of the pro-Trump rioters who were convicted for their roles in the attack on the Capitol.” He also insulted law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol as “thugs.”
- “Trump suggests family separation immigration policy could return.”
Trump said “When you say to a family that if you come, we’re going to break you up, they don’t come.” He also declined to take responsibility for destroying families.
- “Trump repeats election fraud lies.”
“Trump repeated his lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election [and] would not commit to accepting the results of the 2024 presidential election.” He also hyped debunked conspiracy theories about stuffed ballot boxes and fraudulent votes.
- “Trump uses same name-calling tactics.”
“When Collins pressed Trump about documents he took from the White House, he said: ‘You’re a nasty person.'” He also repeated his infantile “crazy” Nancy Pelosi insult.
Not mentioned in the article was a particularly disturbing response by Trump with regard the classified documents that he stole and hoarded at Mar-a-Lago. He offered ludicrous misrepresentations of the Presidential Records Act to justify his security breach. Responding to Collins’ inquiry as to whether he had shown the documents to anyone, Trump replied, “Not really.” Which is a long ways from “No.” He elaborated that he “had the right” to show them to anyone he wanted to. This is a near confession to criminal espionage.
A good indicator of how awful the town hall was is who celebrated the event afterwards. Media Matters collected the rave reviews from elated right-wingers. And on his floundering Twitter scam, Truth Social, Trump himself expressed his delight with the appearance, along with 18 posts from his ecstatic supporters who all considered it a triumph. Congratulations, CNN.
However, it wasn’t only CNN who thought that this noxious affair was a disgraceful embarrassment to journalism. The Hollywood Reported compiled reactions from a broad array of media analysts who concurred that the network “failed journalism and our country.” And there are more critiques here via Media Matters. Even President Biden weighed in saying pointedly that “It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that?”
It’s simple, folks.
Do you want four more years of that?
If you don’t, pitch in to our campaign.https://t.co/EwCflbYn22
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 11, 2023
UPDATE: CNN’s ratings for the town hall were unimpressive. They drew about 3 million viewers, which would be an average night for Fox News primetime, and not uncommon or a special news event on CNN. But those viewers are unlikely to stick around. If they came for Trump they are predisposed to hate CNN, and will be further put off by Collins’ questioning of him.
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