The trivial question being debated is whether CNN should have given Trump a mainstream platform to do his thing, as it did from 8 pm E.S.T. to a tad after 9 pm last Tuesday night. To that our answer is “NO,” but mostly because it was too early for CNN’s rationalizations: principally that he’s the leading Republican candidate and the public has the right to/needs to hear it all again. That might convince some when issue has been joined, with a set field of primary candidates, including the undeclared but most viable, Ron DeSantis. But on May 9, 2023, that wasn’t the case and CNN’s motives were nakedly commercial if not corrupt.
They needed some ratings and Chris Licht, CNN’s newish CEO wanted to catapult the moderator, Kaitlan Collins, to prominence as she became CNN’s latest attempt to fix its weeknight 9 pm problem. That crucial slot has plagued the network since it fired Chris Cuomo for giving advice to his brother, then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about navigating a barrage of “Me Too” accusations.
Despite CNN’s self-serving motivation, the Town Hall could have been less destructive of the public interest and possibly even served it had CNN’s format been very different. In what way different is the right question, which will recur when the inevitable future town halls and other TV events involving the 2024 candidates are held.
The three biggest problems with CNN’s Town Hall were the time allotted, the moderator and the audience. Start with CNN’s one hour town hall format, that ran over to 70 minutes. Grossly inadequate. It didn’t give Collins the time to effectively call out Trump’s many lies and inventions and more important not even just a few that were particularly important.
Having and taking the time to do this properly a few times, or even once, would have completely changed the Town Hall and likely its effect on truly independent voters and those who are truly undecided about voting for Trump.
For example, Trump was asked this question by one of the New Hampshire voters selected to participate: “The current administration has made it clear that we should continue to provide military equipment to Ukraine so that they can defend themselves. Do you support this decision? And how would you deal with the increasing threat posed by Vladimir Putin?”
Trump’s response included: “If I were president, this would have never happened. And even the Democrats admit that.” Collins weakly tried twice to rebut – asking who and saying she didn’t know any such. Charitably assuming that she mostly moved on because she was time- constrained, a longer format and/or a better prepared moderator would have persisted by asking “which Democrats admitted that?, Name them? Name a single one?” And she should not have allowed the Town Hall to move on beyond that question until Trump either fabricated a Democrat that made such an admission or otherwise spotlighted not merely his pervasive mendacity but that he can be beaten when doing his thing.
As we all saw lawyer Roberta A. Kaplan repeatedly pin and slap him down with persistence and precise mastery of the facts during Trump’s disastrous and dispositive deposition in the E. Jean Carroll sexual abuse/defamation case. That persistence and mastery elicited Trump’s instant classic answer that “unfortunately or fortunately” it is true that male stars “can grab women by the pussy” Kaplan did that to Trump many times and Collins could have as well with more time and better command of the facts. We accept the often repeated verdict that Collins did as well as she could but reject that she did as well as anyone else might have. But anyone else was not about to become CNN’s 9 pm anchor.
When Collins asked Trump about his infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump responded, “I didn’t ask him to find anything.” Collins responded, “There’s an audio of you asking him to find you 11,000 something votes.” Instead, she or another moderator prepared and capable to do it would have responded “you asked him to find precisely 11,780 votes and we can play the audio of you asking him to do that.”
CNN and Collins were treating Trump like a regular guy when it had eight years’ experience demonstrating that Trump needed a very specific kind of affirmative action and a very specific kind of moderator with certain skills. Its current correspondents, Laura Coates and Michael Smerconish, have such skills. Instead, CNN had Collins, who repeatedly said things like “you can’t keep saying that all night long” in response to Trump saying the 2020 election was rigged – all night long.
The audience composition was a sick joke. If its configuration was CNN’s choice, we are “shocked, shocked” and if it was Trump’s demand or the result of CNN/Trump negotiation, that is even worse. It was billed as an audience of New Hampshire Republicans and “undeclared” voters intending to vote in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary. For a minute conjure that image of a true independent already committed in 2023 to vote a year later in the Republican primary. And the nine people among them chosen in advance to pose questions to Trump were one, Scott Dustin an “undeclared” voter that voted for Trump in 2020 (after all the carnage of the preceding 45 months); two, Wayne Beyer, a Republican who volunteered for the party in the 2022 midterms and also voted for Trump in 2020; three, Danielle Reger, a Republican activist and 2020 Trump delegate; four, Marta Savaria, a Saint Anselm College Student who apparently was too young to vote in 2020; five, Bobby Petrino, another St. Anselm student who “supported [Trump] in 2020”; six, Julie Miles, a Republican that also voted for Trump in 2020; seven, Jennifer Simmons, a Republican town selectman who also voted for Trump in 2020; eight, Kaitlyn Boissoneau, another Republican St. Anselm’s student too young to have voted in 2020 and ninth and last, Jordan Sullenberger, another “undeclared” voter that voted for Trump in 2020.
You can’t make this shit up. And CNN didn’t. It designed or acquiesced in this abomination and then wrapped itself in the flag of the public’s right to see and hear evil while acting like all three monkeys.