Anderson Cooper Blasted for ‘Gaslighting’ Viewers in Defense of CNN Trump Town Hall

Cooper attempted to quell the backlash against the event on Thursday, saying viewers needed to realize Trump represents “half the country”

The backlash over CNN’s Donald Trump town hall, held Wednesday night in front of an audience made almost entirely of Trump supporters, showed no signs of dying down on Thursday. Which is likely why Anderson Cooper attempted to quell that backlash with a commentary during Thursday night’s episode of his CNN primetime show.

But just like the event itself, Cooper provoked far more criticism than agreement. Cooper, one critic said, acted like “a gaslighting scold.” And the event, another said, is “a desperate ploy for ratings by a network in crisis.” Oops.

The backlash is difficult to summarize, but the main thrust is that critics argue the event was an irresponsible mistake at every level. Complaints touched on the friendly audience, on the fact that aside from any mention of the 2020 election, moderator Kaitlan Collins allowed Trump to lie for minutes at a time with no pushback, and on dangerous falsehoods Trump told about abortion. And of course much was made about how Trump not only called Collins “nasty,” he defamed E. Jean Carroll, the woman he was found liable by a jury of sexually assaulting and defaming just 24 hours earlier.

Cooper acknowledged that what critics pointed out is true: That Trump continued “to spew lie after lie after lie,” that he insulted Collins and defamed Carroll, that he made racist comments, and also that the audience laughed and cheered him on the whole time. Cooper even noted that “it is impossible to fact-check [Trump] fully because he lies so shamelessly.”

But, Cooper rejected the idea that the event should never have happened. Largely because Trump may well end up as the Republican nominee for President in 2024, the implication being that this very fact makes it imperative to let him speak.

But Cooper then appeared to accuse critics themselves of being narrow-minded. “That audience that upset you? That’s about half the country,” he said — erroneously by the way.

Cooper then, with a hint of smugness, addressed critics as people who “haven’t been paying attention since he left office” and are “enjoying not hearing from him.” Critics, Cooper went on, are perhaps “thinking ‘it can’t happen again, some investigation is gonna stop him’? Well, it hasn’t so far.”

Cooper concluded with a tired, and frequently debunked criticism of people who call out the way networks cover Trump. “You have every right to be outraged today and angry and never watch this network again,” he said. “But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?”

Critics responded in kind, with most of them taking particular issue with Cooper’s closing comments.

“As opposed to what? Watching the person say the same hateful things and spew the same old lies we’ve heard a thousand times?” Sirius XM host Michelangelo Signorile said.

“It’s so weird. Now the avoidance of flagrant lies, threats of violence and contempt for law and truth is a crabbed ‘silo?’ I sort of prefer to think of it as ‘democracy’ but sure, I’m limited that way,” author Dahlia Lithwick wrote.

“You must listen while a man mocks the woman he sexually assaulted in front of a laughing, cheering crowd OR ELSE YOU LIVE IN AN IDEOLOGICAL SILO!” noted “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” writer Ariel Dumas.

“Yes, dogs— is horrible. But if you don’t TASTE it SOMETIMES, how do you know just how bad it is?” Dumas added.

Other critics pointed to CNN’s ongoing struggles as a company and television network.

For instance, activist Lindsey Boylan, in a nod to the numerous calls for CNN Chris Licht to resign, noted, “Wow, Chris Licht must be really feeling some heat for Anderson Cooper to become a gaslighting scold with his own viewers.”

And a writer for On Discourse pointed to CNN’s ratings collapse as he also called out Cooper’s smug dismissal of critics. “Imagine thinking anyone on earth already hasn’t heard what he has to say. There is no silo that exists where his thoughts and beliefs aren’t already widely known. This isn’t about news, it’s a desperate ploy for ratings by a network in crisis,” he said.

And New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum pointed out the straw man inherent in Cooper’s comments: “The choice isn’t between showing DT & ignoring him! It’s nonsense to suggest that anyone who objected to CNN’s grotesque faux-journalistic circus just wants to stay in a Trump-free silo— the opposite is true. We want him to be covered *responsibly*”

Read Cooper’s full remarks, and see more responses to it, below:

Many of you have expressed deep anger and disappointment. Many of you are upset that someone who attempted to destroy our democracy was invited to sit on the stage in front of a crowd of Republican voters to answer questions and predictably continue to spew lie after lie after lie.

And I get it. It was disturbing. It was disturbing to see and hear that person refer to a Black law enforcement officer as a ‘thug,’ an adjective he’d used many times to describe Black men. And call Kaitlan Collins, the moderator, ‘nasty,’ which is what he calls any woman who stands up to him. It was disturbing to hear him speak to highly of QAnon conspirators and insurrectionists who assaulted police officers and our democracy on Jan. 6.

It was awful to hear him spread ridiculous lies about the election. And it was certainly disturbing to hear that audience, young and old, out fellow citizens, people who love their kids and go to church, laugh and applaud his lies, and his continued defamation of a woman who, according to a jury of his peers he sexually abused and defamed.

As good a job as Kaitlan Collins did trying to fact-check him, it is impossible to fact-check him fully because he lies so shamelessly.

Now, many of you think CNN shouldn’t have given him any platform to speak, and I understand the anger about that. Giving him the audience, the time, I get that. But this is what I also get: The man that you were so disturbed to see and hear from last night? That man is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president. And according to polling, no other Republican is even close. That man that you were so upset to hear from last night, he may be President of the United States in less than 2 years.

And that audience that upset you? That’s a sampling of about half the country. They are your family members, your neighbors, and they are voting. And many said they’re voting for him. Now, maybe you haven’t been paying attention since he left office and maybe you’ve been enjoying not hearing from him, thinking ‘it can’t happen again, some investigation is gonna stop him’? Well, it hasn’t so far.

So if last night showed anything, it showed it can happen again. It is happening again. He hasn’t changed, and he is running, hard.

You have every right to be outraged today and angry and never watch this network again. But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?

More to come…