CNN’s live townhall Wednesday with Donald Trump might have been well received by the painfully obvious pro-Trump audience in the studio, but if social media is any indication viewers at home were far less amused.
The struggling cable news outfit was excoriated widely on Twitter during the event — and for hours after. Some said the broadcast was “not a town hall,” but a “rally” for Trump, others dismissed it as “a Trump infomercial,” and Democratic congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said simply that CNN “should be ashamed.”
And many who watched called for CNN CEO Chris Licht to resign.
So what upset them? For one thing, the event featured what appeared to be an audience solely made up of Trump supporters. For another, it amounted to just over an hour in which the disgraced ex-president lied repeatedly, dissembled, evaded questions and advanced yet more false claims about the 2020 election.
Trump was was even allowed to smear E. Jean Carroll without real pushback from moderator Kaitlan Collins, literally a day after being found guilty of sexually assaulting and defaming her. And later he even insulted Collins in personal terms.
After the show, journalist Mark Harris, among those calling on Licht to step down, offered this brutal assessment of the debacle: “A failure this immense happens when you forget that journalism’s only allegiance is to the truth, and decide instead that your highest priorities are to have no opinion about anything and to platform lies by calling them ‘newsworthy’ or saying, ‘But a lot of people believe him.’”
Harris also broke down what he saw as the key mistakes made, among them CNN agreeing to pack the audience with Trump supporters, and not canceling the event entirely in light of Trump being convicted by a civil trial jury of sexual battery and defamation.
Writer and political consultant Simon Rosenberg also called on Licht to resign, declaring that “he’s brought incredible shame to his once proud network.”
Journalist Kara Swisher broke down what she saw and the major problems with how Trump was treated, and noted “the audience was gamed in his favor.”
Trump’s estranged niece, Mary Trump, said “CNN is anti-American.”
One Twitter user deemed the interview a “stand up comedy show.”
An unnamed CNN on-air personality deemed the network’s coverage a “Trump infomercial,” according to The Daily Beast.
When asked about the January 6 riots, Trump celebrated those who stormed the Capitol, speaking of his supporters, “they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud.”
“They were there with love in their heart,” he continued. “That was an unbelievable and it was a beautiful day.”
President Joe Biden tweeted a video in response to these assertions, placing Trump’s statements above a video displaying the violence of the insurrection. “The January 6th rioters were not good people,” Biden wrote. “End of story.”
The town hall interview, which took place in New Hampshire Wednesday night, was criticized by some Democrats even before it aired. Many were skeptical of CNN’s willingness to give the former president such a large platform with so much airtime amid his myriad legal scandals.
Another viewer believes Trump’s continued denial of Carroll’s allegations on CNN were grounds for another defamation lawsuit.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) slammed CNN’s coverage, tweeting that the network allowed the town hall to “be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of [the January 6 Capitol riots], and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim.”
Below are some more critiques of the town hall, from Collins’ lack of assertiveness to the hall’s fully Republican and GOP-leaning independent live audience, and more: