By Mayank Chhaya-
CNN rolled out its editorial dignity like the red carpet and Donald Trump stomped all over it.
Even if one looks past the futility of trying to engage the former president along verifiable facts, what he did during the CNN town hall with host Kaitlan Collins was an hour-long election infomercial that he could not have bought even if he had tried. Notwithstanding Collins’ rather ineffectual attempts to keep Trump on the straight and narrow, he did what he always does—sanguinely talked to himself oblivious to the world outside his mind.
If CNN was looking for a ratings bonanza by platforming a man who had just been found liable for sexual abuse and defamation, what it got instead was cavalier incoherence that pandered to the gallery of all-too-eager Republicans and so-called undecideds. Trump spoke sentences where words seemed to be tripping over each other, eventually ending up in a mangled pileup of lies.
It is hard to think that CNN under its remarkably unsuspecting chief executive Chris Licht expected anything other than what Trump did. Perhaps Licht did know what to expect but went ahead anyway slobbering over the potential ratings. In the process though CNN handed him everything he was looking for on a platter. No wonder media reports say that Trump was practically giddy after the town hall.
It is no breaking news that Trump lives on Planet Trump where the rest of the inhabitants are trumpeters. No matter what is asked, he is known to say whatever comes to his mind at that moment irrespective of whether it resembles reality as the rest of world sees it. Collins might as well have asked him just one question, any question, and then let him randomly soliloquize for the next 60 minutes or so.
The justification that Trump is by far the leading Republican candidate and hence networks such as CNN should just give him a wide berth is absurd. It is particularly so because there is a sordid history of his four years in office that culminated in the January 6 disaster. Much has happened in its aftermath as well including his arrest as well as being held liable for sexual abuse. At what point would a network like CNN realize and recognize that it is vulgar to indulge him for over an hour in front of gushing camp followers?
The Guardian newspaper has reported that the town hall “embarrassed the network and prompted a wave of outrage, including from many of its own staff who were upset that it gave Trump a platform to lie to a large audience.”
The newspaper’s Hugo Lowell also reported that “the Trump campaign appears to have got what it wanted out of the CNN town hall in part because it negotiated the terms of the event with an unusual degree of leverage, according to multiple people familiar with how the planning unfolded.”
In doing what it did CNN has displayed a desperately bad judgment not just editorially but at a deeper moral, philosophical level. It is true that as the current leading Republican for the presidential race it would be hard not to report about Trump but there is a difference between reporting and pampering him.
What the town hall did was merely reinforce, if any was needed, Trump’s delusional sense of self and his belief that he has what it takes to bend and warp reality for a substantial section of the American people.
It was embarrassing to watch the partisan audience applaud when Trump described advice columnist E Jean Carroll’s account of a sexual assault by the former president as “fake” and a “made-up story”, referring to it as “hanky-panky”. As The New York Times reported, Carroll is considering suing Trump yet again for those remarks on the heels of having won her civil lawsuit against him in the very case with $5 million in compensation.