Former President Donald Trump predictably used the megaphone CNN handed him Wednesday night to spew falsehoods about the 2020 election, the January 6 attack, abortion, and E. Jean Carroll, turning the hour-long primetime town hall into what one of the corporate media network’s own reporters characterized as a “spectacle of lies.”
Many others echoed that assessment, faulting CNN and its chosen host—Kaitlan Collins, a former reporter for the right-wing Daily Caller—for giving Trump a platform to let loose a torrent of egregious claims with minimal and ineffective real-time fact-checking.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was one of the most vocal critics of CNN‘s decision to hold the town hall, which came a day after a jury found the former president liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll. Unsurprisingly, Trump took the opportunity he was gifted by CNN to mock Carroll—sparking laughter from the live studio audience packed with Republicans.
“CNN should be ashamed of themselves,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “They have lost total control of this ‘town hall’ to again be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan. 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim.”
“This falls squarely on CNN. Everyone here saw exactly what was going to happen,” the New York Democrat added. “Instead they put a sexual abuse victim in harm’s way for views. This was a choice to platform lies about the election and Jan. 6th with no plan but to have their moderator interrupted without consequence.”
"What we saw tonight was a series of extremely irresponsible decisions that put a sexual abuse victim at risk…in front of a national audience, and I could not have disagreed with it more. It was shameful." pic.twitter.com/XvCAa9oDl4
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) May 11, 2023
Trump’s team and CNN, which is now under the leadership of Chris Licht, reportedly negotiated over the New Hampshire town hall for weeks. According to Politico, the former president’s advisers saw the event “as an opportunity to reach a major national audience” as Trump campaigns for another White House term.
“Sorry, but—as predicted—this was a clear win for Trump,” MSNBC‘s Mehdi Hasan wrote in a column following the nationally televised event. “He felt no pressure and conceded nothing. He was welcomed onto CNN to address an audience of non-Republicans watching at home and an audience of loyal Republicans sitting in that hall in New Hampshire. Win-win.”
“When Trump falsely denied he had suggested ‘terminating’ parts of the Constitution, Collins didn’t correct him,” Hasan noted. “When Trump falsely claimed Democrats wanted to execute babies, Collins didn’t correct him. When Trump falsely claimed he finished building his border wall, Collins tried to correct him—but he just talked over her. And when Trump made a racist remark about Chinatown, Collins said nothing whatsoever. Nor did she defend herself when he called her a ‘nasty person.'”
Much of the criticism over the town hall was directed at Licht, CNN‘s CEO. Last year, shortly after taking the helm, Licht pledged to combat the spread of disinformation on CNN‘s platforms.
“The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don’t like rain. We should give space to that,” Licht told CNBC in October. “But we will not have someone who comes on and says it’s not raining.”
That promise appears laughable in the wake of Wednesday night’s debacle. As CNN‘s own Oliver Darcy wrote in a recap of the town hall: “Trump lied about the 2020 election. He took no responsibility for the January 6 insurrection that those very lies incited. And he mocked E. Jean Carroll’s allegations of sexual assault.”
“And CNN aired it all,” Darcy continued. “On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage.”
One on-air CNN personality, speaking anonymously to The Daily Beast‘s Justin Baragona, said the town hall devolved into “a Trump infomercial.”
“It is so bad,” the person added. “We’re going to get crushed.”