Donald Trump’s CNN town hall might end up costing more than just the network’s reputation: On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York ruled that E. Jean Carroll can amend her defamation lawsuit against the former president to include comments he made about her during the May 10 CNN event.
The ruling comes on the same day Trump surrendered himself in a federal court in Miami to face charges stemming from the investigation into his unlawful possession and handling of classified documents after leaving office.
Carroll filed her lawsuit against the twice-impeached former president Trump in 2019, with the case finally going to trial this year. On May 9, after only three hours of deliberation, the jury turned in a unanimous verdict holding Trump liable for sexual battery and defamation; he was ordered to pay her $5 million.
On May 10 — almost exactly 24 hours later, in fact — Trump participated in the CNN town hall where — exactly as critics predicted — he flung rapid-fire lies about practically every topic, with only tepid pushback from moderator Kaitlan Collins, (the exception being in response to lies about the 2020 election).
And regarding Carroll, Trump falsely referred to her lawsuit as “election interference,” attempted to baselessly smear her as a racist, and tried to discuss unfounded and irrelevant claims against her that his legal team had been specifically forbidden from mentioning during the trial. Trump also once again falsely claimed he didn’t know Carroll.
Now Trump may be ordered to pay even more money to Carroll. Though whether or not he’ll ever actually do so remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the town hall proved a disaster for CNN. Already harshly criticized for holding it in the first place, CNN was beset by almost universal condemnation by viewers and media critics, including even CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy. Particular ire was directed at then-CEO Chris Licht, which sent the network into unmistakable crisis management mode. 3 hours after the town hall ended, the network released a statement ardently defending it, and the next day Licht did the same in a meeting with employees. And according to multiple reports, Licht even threatened Darcy’s job and falsely accused him of being “emotional” about it.
This all culminated in the May 11 episode of Anderson Cooper’s primetime show, where during a monologue on the town hall, Cooper accused viewers who objected to the town hall of being closed-minded and fearful, and then essentially dared them to stop watching. Unfortunately for the network — and Licht — viewers obliged.
Already suffering a severe drop in ratings that began even before Licht took over the network, on May 13, two days after the town hall, CNN viewership cratered to the point it was beaten in primetime by shoestring-budgeted right wing outlet Newsmax. The network’s ratings still haven’t recovered, though the recent Chris Christie town hall managed to bring in more than a million primetime viewers for the first time in weeks.
And as for Licht, his tenure at CNN was brought to an end by an Atlantic profile that effectively destroyed his reputation. Among other things it revealed he personally ensured a friendly environment for Trump, and also made sure negative coverage about Trump was quashed in the hours preceding the event.
He was fired last week.