Because I value my mental health and emotional wellbeing, I did not watch the CNN Town Hall for Donald Trump live on Wednesday. Of course, that means nothing in our interconnected, instant media universe, so I saw plenty of clips and recaps on social media. It went about as well as anyone who remembers January 6th could reasonably expect.
Donald Trump is a lying, cheating, civilly-liable sexual abuser who sincerely attempted to overthrow the government of the United States with little more than rhetoric and a cult of personality. In theory, he should be incarcerated pending trial for any number of crimes against the republic (or women), but while he remains maddeningly free, he should definitely not be given national or international platforms to do exactly what he attempted last time he had power. And if someone is going to be ridiculous enough to think it’s a good idea, they probably should put him in front of a hostile or skeptical audience and keep a seasoned anchor in charge of reining him in.
So naturally CNN filled the space with Trump-loving flunkies and set relatively untested Daily Caller alum, Kaitlan Collins, as his adversary. Quite predictably, a bad idea got even worse in execution.
Trump reiterated that his Vice President should have used fake powers to overturn the election, further defamed E. Jean Carroll after her successful civil case against him, attacked a judge (again), said outrageously false things about later abortion, rallied the crowd to attack the interviewer, and endorsed defaulting on the debt ceiling (because what’s a little global economic cataclysm between friends)? The entire experience was an hour-long Trump infomercial—and he didn’t even pay for it.
It was a fatal error for CNN to broadcast him, but even worse to host him without any effort to mitigate the very known and very obvious harms that are part of the Trump package. Sure, he’s appeared on state television Fox News before, but CNN is supposed to be serious, thoughtful, grown-up news. It’s still riding a (mostly undeserved) reputation for journalism from years of being where you’d turn for meaningful takes on important information. By giving the twice-impeached leader of an autogolpe space on the supposedly serious place for news, CNN gave him something that he could never get with a hundred primetime specials on conservative Pravda: mainstream validation.
CNN chief Chris Licht defended the move as representation for the large swath of Americans who agree with the likely-felonious former president. The obvious response to such an absurd argument is to point out that there are plenty of platforms for those people to vent their views, that just because people believe something doesn’t make it true, and because of the previous two points, not every perspective deserves internationally-broadcast live airtime. Especially if that perspective is associated with an attempted coup of representative government.
Trump might have been able to rant and rage across the conservative media universe without pushback, censure, or common sense, but to do so on CNN gives him and his views legitimacy he can’t buy. In just over an hour, the premiere cable news network gave ignominy the same stage as honor, lies the same weight as truth, and autocracy—with all the violence, oppression, and corruption it represents—the same respect due to republics.
There’s no telling what happens next, now that Trump has been laundered back into the mainstream. But CNN will always be responsible for reigniting the Trump Era, and all the consequences that come with it. Here’s hoping the newest version ends more easily and safely than the first.