CNN Trump Town Hall Backlash Grows After Verdict in E. Jean Carroll Case

CNN will air its live Town Hall with Trump one day after a jury awarded $2 million for sexual abuse and $3 million for defamation to the plaintiff Carroll.
Donald Trump found liable for rape in the lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll.
Donald Trump
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CNN is under fire for normalizing Donald Trump — an accusation that the network faced in 2016, when it gave him wall-to-wall coverage and multiple on-air appearances.

On May 9, the former “Apprentice” star was found liable for sexual abuse and battery in Manhattan civil court via the lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. The verdict arrived a little over a month after Trump, who also served as President of the United States from 2017 to 2021, also was charged with 34 felony counts related to hush money payments made to an adult film star.

Much of the attention of media commentators on Twitter after the verdict was directed at CNN, which has undergone a sustained change since the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. Today, May 10, just a day after the ruling, the network will host a primetime Town Hall event with Trump hosted by Kaitlan Collins. He will be the first GOP challenger to President Joe Biden to receive a plum spot on CNN’s primetime lineup.

Media commentators and opinion columnists, such as the LA Times’ Jackie Calmes, suggest that CNN’s decision implies that there’s no difference between a candidate who faces 34 felony charges, and is now also found liable for sexual abuse and battery — and, say, Nikki Haley or Asa Hutchinson, who have also declared themselves for the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Since WBD CEO David Zaslav appointed Chris Licht to take the helm of the network, CNN has been accused of taking a rightward shift with moves such as pulling the plug on right-wing bête noire “Reliable Sources,”

Trump will have to pay $2 million in damages for the sexual abuse and $3 million for the defamation against Carroll, who accused him of sexual assault in a dressing room at Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s. Trump said she made up the story to gain fame and money. His legal situation is unprecedented for a major presidential contender, even if he was once President himself.

Several media commentators suggested that a prime-time Town Hall event with Trump is a way of normalizing the very much abnormal. Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in The Guardian that Trump “will receive the imprimatur of respectability for warranting this platform in the first place…. They have just been too lazy to question doing things the way they had always done things.”

Former “Reliable Sources” Brian Stelter also noted that, recognizing the potential difficulty of the Town Hall, host “Kaitlan Collins is off [CNN’s] A.M. show this week while she preps for Wednesday’s town hall with Trump — an event that will be even more challenging in light of this jury finding. CNN vets like David Chalian and Mark Preston are helping her prepare.”

Criticism of hosting the event largely fell along partisan lines. NPR’s “Morning Edition” reported that Licht “has told his staff they are re-establishing the channel’s original identity.”

Meanwhile, Trump took to Truth Social and said of the event that CNN was “rightfully desperate to get those fantastic (TRUMP!) ratings” and “they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse!!!”

CNN released a statement saying, “President Trump is the Republican frontrunner, and our job despite his unique circumstances is to do what we do best. Ask tough questions, follow up, and hold him accountable to give voters the information they need to sort through their choices. That is our role and our responsibility.”

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