A day after CNN provided Donald Trump an evening to showcase his lies, and to bully host Kaitlan Collins, in front of a MAGA-loving audience that cheered on every racist and misogynistic statement, the damage to the network’s reputation is still growing.
They spent much of Thursday engaged in heavy damage control, sending out messages of support for the event. That included sending Collins back in front of the cameras to treat the event as if what had transpired was something wholly different from what everyone who dared to peek in had seen. Then Anderson Cooper was dispatched to attack those who were really to blame for the horrible decisions at the network: viewers who were just too stupid to get it.
Cooper’s statements have generated a fresh wave of anger and disdain among viewers of CNN. Meanwhile, the network’s own media critic reports despair among CNN employees from top to bottom, and the ratings blip generated by the stunt was exactly that—a flash that was gone as soon as the cameras left Trump.
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Tossing Collins back out there to defend an event in which she was left between a snarling Trump calling her a “nasty person” and a crowd that was hand-selected to support his every moment of bullying, only seemed to showcase CNN executive’s tin ear when it came to listening to the feedback over what they had done, especially since Collins’ defense was that the time she spent watching Trump behave exactly as he always does constituted a “major inflection point in the Republican Party’s search for its nominee.”
Which only serves to show that either CNN doesn’t understand what “inflection point” means, or what Collins learned from being on stage with Trump was to just confidently lie and move on.
But Collins’ statement didn’t garner anything near the immediate red-hot feedback that came from Anderson Cooper chastising Americans about “staying in their silo” and not sitting down to listen to Trump lie, incite violence, insult Collins, and defame E. Jean Carroll again. Because obviously, the responsible thing to do is sit down and listen to all those lies, all that hate, all that cruel laughter. Get out of your silo and climb into Trump’s bunker.
The problem with every defense that CNN is leveling is that there was absolutely nothing to be learned by watching their event. Nothing about Trump, in any case.
It’s entirely possible that no one, ever, in the history of the nation, has been given more airtime than Donald Trump. Even before the 2016 election, Trump was followed from the moment he descended the golden escalator, his every racist rant carefully captured and repeated, his every lie blasted from channel after channel. His every call to violence broadcast and rebroadcast over a backdrop of analysts fanning themselves as they clutched their pearls.
Is it really any wonder that Trump mopped the floor with the other candidates in the Republican primaries? Long before anyone got a chance to vote, the choice was between that guy who was on every screen in America ten times a day, and those other dudes who occasionally showed up to share the stage with Trump at debates.
During Trump’s interminable time in the White House, his appearances were nearly constant, his addiction to standing in front of cameras unlimited. When Trump saw that news cameras showed up to cover daily announcements about events related to the pandemic, he even took over that venue, tossing out Mike Pence and turning every single afternoon into the Donald Trump Dewormer and China Conspiracy Hour.
Trump may have left Washington, but he’s never left America’s television screens. Even his recent indictment in New York involved cameras tracking his every moment, drone footage of his entourage, and every Trump attorney, Trump spokesperson, and Trump third cousin twice removed being given free rein to ramble on.
It’s entirely likely that you could put the media careers of Mohammed Ali and Andy Warhol back to back, and the total amount of airtime and ink would almost certainly be exceeded by Donald Trump on any given Tuesday. No one—no one in America, no one in the world—was really short of an opportunity to see, hear, or sharpen their understanding of Donald Trump.
Put that in your “silo,” Anderson. We are not children, and we don’t need to be scolded for failing to watch another hour of The Donald Trump Show. It’s on every day, everywhere, already.
Of course, the real justification for the whole event was not to inform anyone, but to create ratings. To some extent, that happened—the 70-minute event managed to bring in about 3.3 million viewers. Pretty good for an event on flagging CNN, if a little less than Tucker Carlson was pulling in before Fox fired him. But that momentary rise in CNN’s viewership vanished as soon as the lights went off in New Hampshire. Within an hour, CNN was back in the basement.
Trump celebrated the evening, saying that “many minds were changed.” But the only decision most of those minds seem to have reached is that they don’t intend to watch CNN in the future.
The rarest thing on Trump’s Truth Social platform may be actual truth, but this post from Friday morning certainly comes close.
Meanwhile, from the more truthful department of CNN, the network’s own media critic, Oliver Darcy, writes that he’s still wading a “flood of internal and external criticism” over the CNN stunt.
Twenty-four hours after CNN's town hall, it's all anyone is talking about. Throughout the day, in fact, we heard from dozens of network staffers—ranging in seniority and positions across the organization—who all expressed dismay by what they saw transpire on their television screens. Even as I'm writing this letter right now, I am still fielding messages and phone calls. In fact, Cooper's defense of the town hall prompted another tide of criticism.
Of course it did. And it should.
However, it can’t be said that people didn’t really learn anything on Wednesday night. They learned a lot … about CNN and about the network’s CEO, Chris Licht.
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