For all the legitimate criticism leveled at the Republican Party for enabling Donald Trump and standing behind his democracy-destroying lies, the television news media deserves to be held accountable for its role in creating and keeping alive this Trumpian monster. Wednesday’s CNN town hall with Trump was the most recent, and certainly one of the most blatant, examples of how journalistic integrity so quickly falls by the wayside when greed and the quest for ratings takes priority.
CNN has a long history of exploiting Trump’s outrageousness to boost ratings. But it is far from alone. Fox News pandered to Trump on a daily, if not hourly, basis — even while its anchors and executives mocked and berated Trump off camera.
This is the exact opposite of responsible journalism. Instead of dedicating their coverage to advancing the truth, their ratings quest has granted Trump the ability to communicate with his base and expand his following. Even people who despise Trump will stay glued to the television screen because of the weirdly addictive quality outrage has on them.
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He is a ratings magnet, and the networks know it. That’s the only explanation we can come up with to explain why CNN would sit down with Trump for a live town hall forum in front of a studio audience of cheering, clapping Trump fans. Audience members offered up softball questions so that Trump could swing for the fences. CNN host Kaitlan Collins made a feeble attempt to interrupt and correct the record when Trump lied about his rape trial, election fraud, gasoline prices, immigration and the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. She seemed unprepared when Trump very predictably mowed right over her.
He openly mocked the woman who accused him of raping and defaming her. The audience clapped and laughed, as if sexual abuse was somehow funny to them. And Collins sat meekly by.
“CNN gave Trump 90 minutes of uninterrupted air time to rewrite history and reset his own narrative …,” said the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group. “CNN’s malpractice cannot be repeated if our democracy is to survive. The stakes are simply too high.”
It’s entirely possible that Trump’s entire display of reckless lying and bloviating on Wednesday will backfire because it refreshed the nation’s memory of his presidency and the vitriol he inserted into American politics. He reminded Americans exactly why they voted him out of office in 2020 and why they must never let him back into the White House. The display also was a stark example of how little Trump’s narrative has changed since 2020. The guy simply cannot move on.
But the networks must. He’s done nothing to deserve this attention, and the networks owe it to the country not to grant him an open forum in the cheap pursuit of ratings masked as responsible journalism.