The return of Donald Trump to prime-time television

CNN executives have been condemned over the former president’s televised town hall

Donald Trump holds his hands out while appearing on CNN in 2015
Donald Trump boasted about his presidential recorded during CNN’s televised town hall
(Image credit: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

“Well, that was a disaster, a politically historic one,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. CNN had the bright idea last week of hosting Donald Trump for a live, prime-time town hall question-and-answer session with a studio audience. If the network thought this would allow it to subject the former president to a forensic grilling, it was soon disabused of the notion.

Buoyed by a supportive crowd, Trump swiftly took command of the event, talking over the moderator, calling her “nasty”, boasting about his record and repeating familiar claims of a “rigged” election. He even had the audience chuckling as he attacked the previous day’s jury verdict that he had sexually abused and defamed the writer E. Jean Carroll, dismissing her as a “whackjob”. CNN executives have been condemned by all sides over the event – and deservedly so. “Once again they’ve made Trump real.”

To listen to some pundits, you’d think we were “talking about one of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies”, said Stephen Green on PJ Media. The Left is outraged that Trump has been given a platform, yet what’s so outrageous about him defending his record and suggesting that Carroll’s civil case was politically motivated? “None of this stuff … is outside the realm of normal political discourse.”

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The media is overthinking this, said Zack Beauchamp on Vox. It’s true that “wall-to-wall” coverage gifted lots of free advertising to Trump in 2016, and that the decision by Twitter and Facebook to ban him reduced his reach for a while. But Trump “is not Tinker Bell: he will not go away if the media ceases to believe in him”. The reality is that his policies and views resonate with many people. He won’t be “defeated by a mainstream media blackout”.

Of course Trump should be given a platform, said Michael J. Socolow on Slate, but there are better ways of doing it. Live TV, by its nature, favours the mendacious. It suits those who spout lies better than those putting out “interjected corrections”. Recorded one-to-one interviews are much more effective: produced versions, with edits and narrative tracks, can help put the questions in context.

Some TV interviewers have succeeded in pinning Trump down over the years, and that footage is still out there for other journalists to learn from. When it comes to “informing a democratic citizenry with accurate and verified information, we can do better. And we should.”

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