CNN Parkland Town Hall Receives Award for Helping ‘Advance the National Conversation on Gun Control’

NRA spokeswoman slams 'grotesque' CNN for staging event like 'WWE event'

CNN / YouTube

The 2018 CNN gun town hall in Parkland, Florida, has won a Walter Cronkite award for best "National Network News Program" for helping to "advance the national conversation on gun control and violence."

The program, which took place seven days after the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre of 17 teachers and students at Stoneman Douglas High School, was hosted by CNN's Jake Tapper and featured Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, and former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (D.).

It was entitled Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.

Community members, students, parents and teachers were among those in the audience and asking questions, and the tenor of the town hall was overwhelmingly in favor of stricter gun control laws, with the pro-gun rights Rubio and Loesch put on the defensive and jeered throughout the evening. One student questioned Loesch's fitness as a mother, and another compared Rubio to the murderer.

"CNN's Parkland Town Hall has been honored with a @CronkiteAward. Congrats to @jaketapper and team who helped "advance the national conversation on gun control and violence," CNN's PR team tweeted on Tuesday.

Although billed as a serious conversation on guns in America, the town hall was more of an emotional gun control rally. In additional to the booing and insults directed at Rubio and Loesch, there were huge cheers in the crowd for the ban of semi-automatic rifles and a pro-gun control speech delivered by Israel before the town hall, in spite of his department's failures to prevent the shooting.

Loesch noted to Israel that the perpetrator was repeatedly reported to authorities before the shooting, and neither Israel's office nor the FBI did anything about him. The day after the town hall, one of Israel's deputies, Scot Peterson, was forced into retirement after he was revealed to have failed to enter the school for several minutes as the shooting took place.

Four days after the town hall, Tapper grilled Israel on State of the Union about the Broward County Sheriff Department's failures before, during, and after the shooting. Tapper balked when Israel said he'd provided "amazing leadership" in spite of not taking responsibility for Peterson and the department's conduct.

Tapper even asked Israel if he would resign over the massacre; he refused, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.) fired him after taking office earlier this year.

One viral moment from the town hall came when March For Our Lives co-founder Cameron Kasky confronted Rubio about accepting money from the National Rifle Association. "It’s hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at [the Stoneman Douglas shooter], but the point is you’re here and there are some people who are not," Kasky told Rubio.

He then proceeded to ask Rubio if he would pledge to not accept more money from the NRA, leading to a standing ovation while Rubio shuffled his feet. Kasky added he wished he could have asked the "NRA lady," referring to Loesch, how she could look herself in the mirror. Rubio explained he would continue to accept donations from those who supported his agenda. At one point, Tapper admonished the audience to stop jeering so Rubio and Kasky could speak.

Kasky later said he regretted the way he spoke with Rubio, saying it was his flawed intention to "embarrass" him rather than have a conversation.

"I look back on that and I say, you know what, there were people who had just been buried and when you’re looking at somebody that you find might in some way have been complicit in this murderer obtaining the weapon it’s hard not to say something like that," Kasky told Fox News. "But, I went into that wanting less conversation and more to embarrass Rubio and that was my biggest flaw."

Rubio did say at the town hall that he would support raising the minimum age requirement for buying a rifle to 21 and reconsider his opposition to bans on large-capacity magazines.

Loesch took to Twitter to express disgust over CNN winning an award for the event and shared Twitter videos of people shouting "shame on you" at her in the arena. One person could be heard calling her a witch who should be burned.

She likened CNN's treatment of the topic to a professional wrestling match and called the award an "absolute sham."

At another point during the town hall, Loesch responded to a call to ban rifle sales to those under 21 with the story of a rape survivor who wished she had been armed. Some in the crowd jeered as she spoke.