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CNN Town Hall: The Day After

By hosting Donald Trump for a town hall, CNN wasn't trying to just report the news, they wanted to make the news. It's an open question whether a serious journalistic organization should have that as a goal, but CNN certainly did, and they succeeded. There was an absolute mountain of coverage yesterday; we're just going to run down the 10 storylines we thought were most interesting:

  1. Thumbs Down: We imagined that, once folks had a full evening to ruminate and then a morning in which to write, the savage reviews would be voluminous. We were right. We don't want to inundate you with more nasty quotes, or with nasty headlines, so how about some keywords? "Toe-curlingly bad," "cable carnage," "absolute disaster," "a Trump rally," "a fiasco," "stupid, stupid," "a disservice to democracy," and "propaganda." Note that is eight different commenters, not one commenter with a gift for expressive language.

  2. Good, Not Great Ratings: The Town Hall drew about 3.3 million viewers. That's not bad, but it's not particularly good, either. Especially if you're going to sell your soul and your reputation to make it happen. To put that figure in context, it's about triple what CNN would normally draw at that time, and it's about equal to an average Tucker Carlson broadcast before he was, you know, broomed. Trump is bragging about the ratings, and he claimed yesterday that "many minds were changed." Naturally, he would have bragged about the ratings, whatever they were. As to the minds being changed... yeah, right.

  3. Winning!: Even if the ratings were only OK, there's little question that Trump won the night and CNN lost it. Trump's campaign staff is thrilled about his performance. Meanwhile, countless CNN employees are griping about the event, and the harm it did to the network's reputation.

  4. A House Divided...: During the town hall, the former president encouraged House Republicans to let the U.S. default on its national debt. This suggestion has split even the Freedom Caucus, with some members saying they are ready to commit right now to going over the cliff, while others say that it's not quite time for that kind of talk yet. If we were working in the Biden White House, we would probably take note of the fact that even many of the Freedom Caucusers start to get skittish when the threat of a default gets real.

  5. ...and a Senate, Too: Some Republican members of the Senate (e.g., Josh Hawley, MO) had very flattering things to say about the town hall (of course, the Hawleys and Cruzes and Lees of the world fawn over everything Trump does). Others were not impressed, and took this opportunity to make it clear that they won't be supporting Trump in 2024. That would include Sens. Todd Young (IN), Thom Tillis (NC) and John Cornyn (TX). We shall see if they stick with that if the presidential race ends up as Trump vs. Joe Biden. We don't see these men voting for a Democrat, though they could vote third-party, we suppose.

  6. How to Do Better, Part I: There are a lot of suggestions about how this event could have been handled better, and we saw two of them that we particularly like. The first of those: Don't air the events live and unedited. Or, more accurately, the suggestion is that CNN could have made a livefeed available on their website (for those who really want the unfiltered experience), but that they should have edited the interview for broadcast. If this was the plan, the livefeed would cover CNN against charges of bias/selective editing, but the broadcast version would have put pressure on Trump (or any other candidate) to fly straight. Because they would know that if they lied, went off on tangents, bloviated, etc., that part would end up on the cutting room floor, and would be seen by only the much smaller livestream audience.

  7. How to Do Better, Part II: The other suggestion we liked: Kill the audience. OK, not literally. This isn't the Hunger Games. But what, exactly, does the audience bring to the table? Not much, as far as we can tell, and we've watched hundreds of these things. On the other hand, they are often a distraction, and they can help a candidate take over the room, as happened here.

  8. Digging the Hole Deeper, Part I: Trump loves attention so much, and he so very badly needs to sell the world on his victimhood and his total innocence in all matters, that he regularly says stuff at these things that amounts to shooting himself in the foot. He said several things last night that add to the case that he knowingly and deliberately took classified documents with him when he left the White House. For example: "I took the documents; I'm allowed to." It doesn't get much clearer than that. Undoubtedly, special counsel Jack Smith was taking notes.

  9. Digging the Hole Deeper, Part II: Trump also shared his thoughts on the situation in Georgia, and said things like: "I didn't ask [Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger] to find anything... I said you owed me votes because the election was rigged. That election was rigged. If this call was bad, why didn't him and his lawyers hang up?" What the former president did there, fairly tidily, even if he doesn't know it, is articulate a motive for his behavior. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked to several legal experts, and they all agreed that Trump's words are headed straight for Fulton County DA Fani Willis' evidence pile. For example, Michael Kreis, a Georgia State University constitutional law professor" "Subjects of criminal investigation aren't usually reckless enough to go on national television and admit their corrupt intent, but Donald Trump just handed Fani Willis a new piece of evidence and tied a bow on it."

  10. Digging the Hole Deeper, Part III: The Town Hall came roughly 30 hours after Trump was found liable for defaming E. Jean Carroll. And so what did he do with that new information? He spent much of his time on CNN saying things about E. Jean Carroll that are (or at least, may be) defamatory, like calling her a "whack job." More on this below.

In short, while the town hall might be over, the consequences are just beginning. (Z)

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