CNN Joins Hate Fest Against Itself After Trump Town Hall

May 11, 2023

Commentators across the political spectrum have finally found something they can agree on: CNN's Wednesday town hall with former president Donald Trump was a disaster for the network.

Even CNN's own Oliver Darcy joined the pile-on, packaging up a self-own of backlash in his Thursday morning media newsletter. Trump won the night, and his longtime frenemy CNN lost, bigly, Darcy reported.

Trump's many critics in the media were already mad about the event before it happened, especially at MSNBC.

But CNN—desperate to reverse the ongoing collapse of its ratings since Trump left office—insisted it had a journalistic obligation to question the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. CNN chairman Chris Licht reportedly saw the town hall as a chance to reset with Trump, who had not appeared on the hostile network since 2016, and to attract more conservative viewers.

Line chart showing quarterly primetime ratings for viewers (25-54 years old demographic) of top 3 cable news networks (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC), from Q3 2012. All three networks' ratings dramatically fell from their Q4 2020 peaks in 2021.

Then, Trump got up on stage and bowled over CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins for 70 minutes as the New Hampshire crowd laughed and cheered. Twitter quickly became a stream of anti-CNN hate speech and the rest of the media wasn't far behind. MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough called the town hall "disgraceful on every level."

Trump supporters, meanwhile, gave CNN little credit for Trump's raucous primetime performance.

CNN spokesman Matt Dornic rushed to defend Collins as a "world-class journalist" who was able "to arm voters with crucial information about his positions as he enters the 2024 election as the Republican frontrunner. That is CNN’s role and responsibility: to get answers and hold the powerful to account."

And Licht reportedly echoed that message on a Thursday morning editorial call. But, as reported by former CNN media critic Brian Stelter, many CNN employees "strongly disagree."

Trump's team, meanwhile, was "thrilled" about the town hall, according to the New York Times' Jonathan Swan. "They can’t believe he is getting an hour on CNN with an audience that cheers his every line and laughs at his every joke."