CNN’s town hall for Trump a reckless TV blunder not worth the ratings

CNN is on a roll — and not the good kind because journalism is obviously being flattened in the process.

“Shameful.” “Appalling.” “Reckless.” By now you are probably already aware of the fallout since CNN’s hour of lies starring Donald J. Trump, and the justifiable criticism being levied at the corporate news giant, and all of the aforementioned adjectives slamming CNN for letting Trump brazenly do what he does best. Not only did Trump spill his usual bucket of lies all over the town hall floor on Wednesday in New Hampshire, he took it a notch further by insulting sexual assault victims — many of whom are women who would likely assert speaking casually about sexual assault, especially off the heels of the E. Jean Carroll civil case, is not funny at all — nor wise.

The Wednesday night spectacle centered around Trump’s usual one-man show, albeit maybe a bit more calculated and reserved than usual. It was still exasperating to witness unfold, like watching a has-been grasping for an inkling of yesteryear’s limelight. CNN execs must have thought the town hall would jumpstart Trump 2.0, which usually results in more headlines, and more Trump. But it was evident to everyone except the cable news big wigs that Trump has already squeezed out just about every last drop of cheap, pot-stirring tricks he had left. America was exhausted with Trump’s appearance before the shit show even aired. And more importantly, the charges against the former president have been damning enough. Putting Trump in front of the court of public opinion did not thing but allow Trump to offend the masses, sow more division, and threaten the security of the country with his subsequent praising of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists during his appearance and calling J6 “a beautiful day.”

Everyone saw this train wreck coming except CNN, and CNN either didn’t foresee the foreseeable, or simply didn’t care. Both are equally disturbing possibilities to wrestle with when I consider the size, reach, and global brand recognition of CNN. I also considered that perhaps this cable news network is officially drunk on itself; the hubris you must harbor to think 76-year-old, scheming Donald Trump would drop the act because CNN gave him a virtually unmitigated platform for spreading more lies — and pain.

According to the Lincoln Project, Trump managing to tell 139 lies during the CNN town hall on Wednesday. I think the average person would admit it’s insane to think CNN has been so soft and frankly easily bulldozed, and used by Trump who has mercilessly (and relentlessly) attacked CNN since he hit the campaign trail in 2015.

But perhaps it was all worth it in the eyes of CNN. Donald did Donald as best as he could, and America reacted predictably with one hand covering their eyes as they peep through the cracks of their fingers. Only time will tell what the real damage was to CNN, if any. If the ratings are any indication of where this is going next, it may be time for Americans to start tuning out as much as they say they are sick of the Donald. According to Nielsen, Wednesday night’s town hall drew 3.3 million viewers, more than any other cable news network during that time slot. I doubt CNN will be discouraged by this.

CNN announced on Monday, April 24, 2023 that the network had parted ways with longtime anchor Don Lemon. (Credit: Screenshot - YouTube/CNN)
CNN announced on Monday, April 24, 2023 that the network had parted ways with longtime anchor Don Lemon. (Credit: Screenshot – YouTube/CNN)

Prior to Wednesday, the axing of Don Lemon was the most recent misstep at CNN, and the decision is still reverberating, with calls from activists for CNN to right the situation, including Rev. Al Sharpton. Every semester since last year, Falisha and I guest speak at a sociology class on the African American Family at Cal State San Bernardino. A telling sign of the impact of Lemon’s firing was a request to kickstart a class discussion on why Lemon’s dismissal isn’t just another anchor’s firing, like Tucker Carlson at Fox News. (He was also once an anchor at MSNBC.) Many Black Americans love Don Lemon and rightfully questioned the questionable grounds CNN found for letting him go — just months after moving him to a morning show with two co-anchors. This story is still developing, of course.

I realized after speaking to the class last week, the impressions the students had of CNN as a media organization were a reflection of the consensus other Americans have drawn: CNN is a “liberal” leaning and operated news source. I couldn’t disagree more. Like all corporate news, including MSNBC, CNN goes where the wind blows; their viewpoints and emphasis in news coverage shifts to varying degrees, especially when there is a corporate shake-up or changing of the guard, which are all true of CNN in the last two years. Not to mention the mass layoffs last year. It struck me that right-wing media, and quite possibly the lies of Donald Trump, have been very effective propaganda; people assume it is the antithesis of Fox News… or polar opposites. (These overly simplistic comparisons make me question if America has too firmly embraced hero-villain tropes that create so many black-and-white thinkers.)

Let me make one thing clear, if CNN is not doing it for you already: CNN is not the progressive, true-blue news station or beacon of democratic principles it has been misguidedly designated. CNN is a company, and news is the commodity. How they sell their product is what every business (including my own) has to decide. With that said, legacy media companies shift their focus, as I mentioned earlier. In other words, anyone disappointed with CNN need not be surprised, just crack open the history books.

Now that I have established how a media company like CNN could fail so miserably to protect the most fundamental tenet of journalism during the most embattled period in American politics, next to the civil war, I have to say there are a lot more adjectives CNN is deserving of, but name calling is not the answer.

CNN did a disservice to Americans and journalists as true guardians of free speech continue to fend off the attacks from megalomaniacs who do not respect the First Amendment because it often interferes with their objectives. I think there is a point that the news media, in large, deserves criticism for not speaking to middle America. This is an issue that has to be addressed on both sides — which in itself lies a problem. We have become a country of two truths, which we know cannot co-exist. This surely means there is a lie and America is living one we perpetuate by not demanding corporate media and the companies with the loudest megaphones emphasize the day-to-day struggles of everyday Americans, not the vast emphasis on those living in the fringes or shallow movements and trends that won’t stand the test of time. I’m all for giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering the disenfranchised, but those people, many of whom look like me, are not getting the attention they deserve — and haven’t been for some time.

I would like to believe the period we are living through in American politics, where free speech and democracy cannot survive without each other, that this is a grand test we will somehow pass… together. I am, as I have said before, an advocate for more Black-owned media, but I also support more independent media so long as they meet rudimentary journalistic standards. The mainstream powerhouses will still be here decades from now, but their influence on politics and social progress needs to diminish, especially if for the sake of delivering honest information to preserve democracy.

On some level, I can understand Americans’ widespread frustration with news media, but that’s not an excuse for many of these companies forgetting truth and honesty holds America up when she stumbles. I think more Americans are now faced with finding another source for “news.” They do exist. But entrusting corporate news companies with disseminating substantive, quality information that inform your opinions and shape your decisions is bound to let you down, like the rest of America.

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