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.
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) May 11, 2023
'This is not journalism, this is entertainment." MSNBC torches CNN for hosting a Town Hall with Trump. (Video: MSNBC) pic.twitter.com/U86SDZ4zjj
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) May 9, 2023
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.
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."
'It was disgraceful on every level." Joe Scarborough rips into CNN’s Trump Town Hall. (Video: MSNBC) pic.twitter.com/bv5U3sdreC
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) May 11, 2023
Trump supporters, meanwhile, gave CNN little credit for Trump's raucous primetime performance.
After Trump destroys CNN, Trump voters continue the demolition.
This clip is perfection.
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) May 11, 2023
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."
Covering Trump is "tricky and messy," Licht says, and it will "continue to be messy and tricky, but it's our job." He confidently says "America was served very well by what we did last night." Many CNN employees strongly disagree.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 11, 2023
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."