CNN’s town hall with former President Trump drew 3.1 million viewers Wednesday, but network executives faced a tsunami of criticism for giving the Republican candidate a platform to spread lies.
The initial number of viewers counted by Nielsen was the largest for CNN since the network’s coverage of the July hearings of the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. While Trump’s appearance delivered strong numbers for CNN, it was a typical audience size for Tucker Carlson on Fox News before he was fired last month.
Trump was questioned for 70 minutes by CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins in front of New Hampshire Republican voters at St. Anselm College in Goffstown. It was a rare appearance by Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race, at a media outlet that is not favorable to him.
The crowd turned the event into a rallying cry for Trump as members applauded the candidate’s answers, even as he disparaged E. Jean Carroll, a woman who had recently been convicted of sexual assault in 1994. Trump was awarded $5 million after the jury had found him liable.
Trump also reiterated 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.
Although Collins fought valiantly to correct Trump, efforts to fact-check in real time have often proved futile. Critics said CNN should have known better than to give Trump a platform where it would be impossible to filter out misinformation.
“Live lying works,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. “Live is not fact-checking. Trump is clearly not worthy of the risk that CNN has chosen to take.
The incident was not well received even inside the network.
A producer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to criticize an employer said, “I was just embarrassed.” “Everyone knows Trump lies. Everyone knows what he is going to say. His propaganda is what his followers want.
CNN’s own media reporter, Oliver Darcy, said the incident sparked the 2016 campaign, when media outlets gave Trump enough airtime because it rewarded him with larger audiences. In the years since then, Jeff Zucker, then head of CNN, has repeatedly expressed regret for turning Trump into a ratings attraction.
“It felt like 2016 all over again,” Darcy wrote in his newsletter Wednesday evening. “It was Trump’s disjointed social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given that the town hall was held in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving his embarrassing antics a sense of unintended support.
The appearance was highly anticipated and heavily scrutinized, being Trump’s first appearance on CNN since 2016. ,
CNN’s current president, Chris Licht, has been trying to steer the network’s reputation away from 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 incident. He said the public “loved what we did last night” because it showed people what was at stake in the 2024 election.
A CNN representative said the in-person audience was “curated by the network through community groups, student politics and government, faith groups, agriculture and education organizations, as well as Republican groups. The school and campaign also invited guests.” invited.