'Here we go again': Critics decry CNN's decision to air Trump town hall in N.H.Play
Former President Donald Trump will return to New Hampshire on Wednesday evening for a CNN town hall. The event has sparked controversy among many Democrats, student groups and media watchers, who are criticizing the network for giving such a platform to Trump, who has a long record of spreading lies.
The event represents a reunion between Trump — who's been limiting his appearances to conservative media outlets — and CNN, which stopped airing his events after the 2016 presidential campaign. David Zaslav, the new chief executive of CNN's owner, Warner Brothers Discovery, has said the network should feature the voices of liberals as well as conservatives, including Trump.
"All voices should be heard on CNN," Zaslav told MSNBC recently. "I think it's important for America."
At Wednesday night's event, Trump will field questions from New Hampshire Republicans and Independents who say they plan to vote in the GOP primary. According to numerous polls, Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, and the New Hampshire contest is a key step in his bid to return to the White House.
"All voices should be heard on CNN. ...I think it's important for America."David Zaslav, of Warner Brothers Discovery
But a host of critics decry CNN's decision as dangerous.
"Here we go again," said David Kurtz, executive editor and Washington bureau chief of Talking Points Memo. He said CNN should not repeat the mistakes of 2016 by handing this high-profile platform to Trump, who typically uses such events to air old grievances and amplify false claims. "We should have figured this out by now," Kurtz said. "And yet there are indications that we're going to go down the same road again."
Kurtz noted that Trump "led a coup to try to overturn the results of the last election." He also has been indicted in New York, faces criminal investigations on multiple fronts, and on Tuesday was found liable for battery and defamation in a lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Kurtz argued that standard journalistic approaches and formats — like the traditional town hall — didn't hold Trump to account when he ran for president in the past, and could be even less effective this time.
"We should have figured this out by now. And yet there are indications that we're going to go down the same road again."David Kurtz, of Talking Points Memo
Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, a women's rights advocacy organization, shares similar concerns. "We know what happens when a major news network gives Donald Trump free airtime and an unfettered platform," she said. "He spews lies and hate."
Thomas, who has sponsored a petition demanding that CNN cancel the event, said the last time the media failed to rein in Trump, it helped lead to an insurrection and a brazen effort to thwart American democracy.
The town hall is slated to take place at Saint Anselm College, outside of Manchester, where some students are protesting the Trump appearance and have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the college to shut the event down.
"We know what happens when a major news network gives Donald Trump free airtime and an unfettered platform. He spews lies and hate."Shaunna Thomas, of UltraViolet
In a statement, Saint Anselm President Joseph Favazza acknowledged that Trump is an election denier who faces multiple legal challenges. But, he said, Trump has been invited because he is a front-runner for the Republican nomination and the former president of the United States.
"Given the college’s history, we would betray our responsibility toward impartiality by turning away any major party candidate because a constituency finds the individual to be objectionable," Favazza said in the statement.
Critics contend they are not advocating that the media ignore Trump. Instead, they're saying not to cover him in this way — in a town hall setting that makes it harder to challenge falsehoods or misinformation. Kurtz argues that a one-on-one CNN interview would work better, allowing for more fact checking and follow-ups on any inaccuracies.
"You could do it in any number of other ways that would give you more control and more editorial discretion over the misinformation that Trump is likely to spew," Kurtz said.
CNN said Wednesday night's event will be moderated by anchor Kaitlan Collins and is part of a long tradition of hosting presidential town halls. Collins' challenge will be to push back in real time against Trump or risk being seen as providing a megaphone for any false claims.
This segment aired on May 10, 2023.