Dear Commons Community,
The cable news network’s event for the former president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate took place Wednesday in New Hampshire, a day after a jury found Trump liable of defamation and sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll.
A crowd of 400 or so Republican and Republican-leaning voters welcomed Trump to Saint Anselm College with a standing ovation. During questioning, the former president declared Carroll’s case against him a “fake story” and called moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person” as she fact-checked his answers.
The network faced backlash over hosting the event, which marked the first major television event of the 2024 presidential campaign. CNN defended its decision to hold it as a chance to put Trump in front of a wider audience, outside the conservative media bubble he has largely kept to since early in his presidency.
Cooper defended his TV home during the opening segment of “Anderson Cooper 360” Thursday.
“Many of you have expressed deep anger and disappointment. Many of you are upset that someone who attempted to destroy our democracy was invited to sit on a stage in front of a crowd of Republican voters to answer questions and predictably continued to spew lie after lie after lie,” Cooper said. “I get it. It was disturbing.”
Cooper went on to condemn some of the things Trump said during the town hall, adding he understands the “anger” viewers had toward CNN for giving the former president a platform.
“The man you were so disturbed to see last night, that man is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president,” Cooper said. “You have every right to be outraged today, angry and never watch this network again, but do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?”
He continued: “After last night, none of us can say: ‘I didn’t know what was out there. I didn’t know what was coming.'”
CNN Chairman and CEO Chris Licht said to staff in a meeting recording obtained by The Associated Press that the town hall was “an important part of the story” and that the people in the audience represent “a large swath of America.”
“The mistake the media made in the past is ignoring that those people exist. Just like you cannot ignore that President Trump exists,” Licht said.
Critics said the event, which was staged in front of Republicans and unaffiliated voters who were expected to vote in the GOP primary, instead turned into a Trump campaign rally and allowed him to repeat longstanding falsehoods while dodging difficult questions.
The event widened CNN’s audience, at least for a night. Nielsen said the town hall averaged 3.3 million viewers, compared with the 707,000 who tuned in to CNN during the same time slot a night earlier.
It would have been a very interesting and important evening if the audience was not made up of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.