CNN did not respond to requests for comment about whether it regretted giving Trump a platform — nor did they respond to questions about whether Trump or his team had input into the selection of audience participants.
CNN CEO Chris Licht, in an internal call with staff Thursday morning, defended the decision to hold the town hall and congratulated moderator Kaitlan Collins for “a great performance.”
“I know it’s there [have] People who have opinions minimize the backlash, and that’s totally expected,” Licht said on the call, a transcript of which was obtained by Playbook. “And let me be as clear as I can: You don’t have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say we didn’t get them. Kaitlan pressed him repeatedly and made news — a lot of news.
He added, “We learned last night what a second Trump presidency will look like, and that’s incredibly important for the country to hear. It’s our job to get those answers and hold them accountable in a way that no news organization has done in years.
“We all know that covering Donald Trump has been messy and tricky, and it will continue to be messy and tricky,” Licht said. “But that’s our job, and we’re going to do it fair, hard and aggressive like Kaitlan did last night.”
But the criticism was harsh.
CNN’s own media correspondent Oliver Darcy wrote on the network “Trusted Sources” newsletter Wednesday night, the town hall felt like it was “2016 all over again.”
“It’s hard to see how America was served by the display of lies broadcast on CNN Wednesday evening,” Darcy wrote. He listed the lies that Trump told over and over again at the town hall and added, “CNN aired them all. It went that day too. It felt like 2016 again. Trump’s seamless social media feed brought the stage to life.
“And Collins was put in an awkward position,” he wrote, “as the town hall was held in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving him a sense of unintended approval of his brazen actions.”
CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper took note of how the town hall aired Wednesday evening.
“He called a black law enforcement officer a thug. He said people here in Washington, DC and Chinatown don’t speak English. He attacked Caitlon. [Collins] As a nasty girl… she joked [E. Jean Carroll’s] “Sexual violence and many in the audience laughed.” Tapper told Cooper.
“And appreciated,” Cooper added.
CNN contributor and former police officer Michael Fanone, who was at the Capitol on January 6, criticized CNN in a town hall before the event. Commentary by Rolling Stone “CNN is holding a town hall for a guy who tried to kill me.”
“I don’t believe for a second that it’s about journalistic honesty. It’s about ratings and money,” Fanon wrote. “Sometimes things seem right, and this appears to be an attempt by a major media outlet to attract a disenfranchised audience struggling with its ratings.”
Fanon he told HuffPost after the town hall He was “appalled” by what he saw and called it “absolute disaster”.
“There’s no way to verify this guy in real time. He’s a volcano of bullshit,” Fanon told HuffPost.