CNN’s Trump Town Hall Was A Spectacle That Media Can Learn From As Not What To Do Going Forward
CNN’s town hall with the former President Donald Trump was deservedly met with an avalanche of criticism and showed that viewers and most media expect better coverage of Trump in the 2024 presidential election.
CNN should have already learned from Trump’s two presidential elections and the 2020 midterm what Trump’s tendencies are – everyone knows them – to double down with falsehoods when pressed to comment on truth.
So, CNN wasn’t blindsided when he once again claimed the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him, a claim already debunked by the courts and widely accepted as a lie.
They knew Trump wouldn’t have come clean on that.
And it wasn’t just election denialism Trump lied about. He spewed falsehoods on the Jan. 6 insurrection, the economy, inflation, abortion, practically everything.
Many viewers and the media said Trump shouldn’t have been given a platform considering he faces several state and federal investigations of his election subversion and incitement of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
That is debatable.
Format that benefitted Trump
But CNN’s format of the town hall was just derelict journalism and one of the cable station’s lowest in its history.
First, many in the media said the format shouldn’t have been live. Famed journalist and CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour criticized her own station on the live format, saying “Some of the very best and even most fiery, compelling interviews are, in fact, taped, and they are edited, not to change the context or the content or the truth or the intent, but to edit for filibuster and a stream of disinformation. So maybe less is more. Maybe live is not always right.”
For a politician like Trump – again CNN should have known better – a live format made it almost impossible to challenge each lie, especially if CNN elected to have only one interviewer.
Second, and perhaps the most egregious decision by CNN, was having a town hall audience comprised of mostly Republican voters and a few Republican-leaning independents. What could CNN have been thinking? The set up amounted to being a pep rally for Trump.
The town hall was received with such acrimony that CNN had to play defense to justify what they had done, and even apologetic sounding. CNN’s viewership dropped dramatically since the town hall. CNN is now falling behind the newbie, far-right cable channel Newsmax.
What we can learn
It’s encouraging that the CNN town hall was received with aversion by a vast majority of media because as the presidential election draws nearer, we know coverage will no longer be business as usual when covering Trump, even if he ends up the nominee of the Republican party.
A vast majority of media finally came to the conclusion that it doesn’t serve America and voters to give Trump a platform if the setup would enable him to barrel through and ignore interviewers when confronted with lies.
Finally, most media are on the same page that they will not continue to be used and promote a false narrative that has dangerous consequences to democracy. It’s a shame that chairman and CEO of CNN Chris Licht hasn’t learned from the mistakes of past elections in covering Trump.
Even after the town hall Licht defended it saying that Trump represents “a large swath of America” and CNN’s Anderson Cooper when as far as saying that the mostly Republican audience is a sampling of about “half of the country.”
No, it’s not true that Republicans represent half the country. Since 2004, almost 20 years ago, a Republican presential nominee and one incumbent, failed to win both the popular and electoral vote.
Experts say die-hard Trump loyalists represent about one-third of the country and that independents who vote Republican are not Republicans, but often will vote Republican because they oppose the Democratic party. And from what we’ve seen in the last Biden-Trump matchup, Biden won the independent vote.
A vast majority of media that rebuked CNN’s town hall are not only wanting to hold Trump more accountable for his lies this time around, but they’re also wanting to be held more accountable for their own role in promoting Trump in the past.
As the Washington Post stated Trump has been given more coverage in an election than any other presidential candidate in modern history. Academics have criticized the media for building up Trumpism and Trump through exhaustively covering him.
Whether such coverage were negative or not, the sheer number of hours Trump had received in coverage was free publicity estimated to be worth billions.
As the saying goes, if a lie is repeated over and over, it starts to chip away at the truth. This has been what Trump has done as a marketer before running for office and continues to use as a ploy until the present. The town hall once again was evident of this.
In this light, there is sound logic by those in the media who say Trump shouldn’t be given a platform, period!