The Trump TV Tangle
How do you hold a liar to account?
This week, Donald Trump did a town hall event put on by CNN at a college in New Hampshire. It was hosted by the channel’s chief correspondent and co-host of its morning show, Kaitlan Collins, in a white suit. No surprise, the event caused a bit of a stir.
Essentially, people think the twice-impeached former, and maybe future, president was given something of a free ride. He could say almost anything in front of a friendly audience - it was not a mixed audience, but one focused on those who will decide who the Republican candidate is via the primary.
The Addition is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Here is what CNN’s own media report Oliver Darcy wrote in his Reliable Sources newsletter:
It's hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.
Kaitlan Collins is as tough and knowledgable of an interviewer as they come. She fact-checked Trump throughout the 70-minute town hall. Over and over and over again, she told him that the election was not stolen. That it was not rigged. That there was no evidence for the lies he was disseminating on stage.
"The election was not rigged, Mr. President," Collins told Trump at one point during the event. "You cannot keep saying that all night long."
Yet, he did. Trump frequently ignored or spoke over Collins throughout the evening as he unleashed a firehose of disinformation upon the country, which a sizable swath of the GOP continues to believe. A professional lie machine, Trump fired off falsehoods at a rapid clip while using his bluster to overwhelm Collins, stealing command of the stage at some points of the town hall.
Fair play to CNN for letting him put that out. The channel has also been pretty strident in its defence. The New York Times reported that chairman Chris Licht told his staff that “I absolutely, unequivocally believe America was served very well by what we did last night”.
I was not able to watch the full thing, but I have seen multiple clips. Some of the criticisms are fair because as hard as Collins worked to fact-check him in real-time, the usual Trump tactic of bulldozing over his inquisitor was also successful. And he had a friendly crowd cheering him on.
Take, for instance, this conversation about the ongoing debt ceiling crisis in the US. He is asked a sensible, if soft, question by an audience member. Collins then pushes him in a follow-up, and he just dismisses the question with a quip as the onlookers laugh.
It is more a failure of a format than the failure of Collins. From all that I’ve seen, she pushed him as hard as she could, but there is only so much anyone can do in that setting. Her company put her in an almost impossible position. The channel is trying to reset and be seen as less politically partisan. Alongside that, Trump is a ratings winner and a candidate.
This leads to the question of what do media companies actually do about him. We know he’s going to lie. We know his fans don’t care that he lies. They probably don’t even think he is lying. But if you’re CNN or any other mainstream outlet you can’t ignore him. Many of us might want him to disappear from the public discourse, but it is not happening any time soon. Consequently, it’s not healthy to leave Trump to frantically post on Truth Social, his social media network, and only appear on Fox News and other right-wing outlets. He needs to be forced out of his silo and held accountable in the mainstream, as far as that is possible.
Perhaps an old-school long-form interview is the solution. This week, Rob Burley, who used to run political programmes at the BBC and now works with Sky News political editor Beth Rigby on her show, released a book* extolling the virtues of this format. (He has worked with many of the great British TV interviewers and will be on “The Addition Podcast” next week. You won’t want to miss that conversation.) Left one-on-one in a studio with Trump could Collins or another excellent American journalist better hold Trump to account? Probably. And that is why he will never agree to it.
*Buying items through links in this newsletter may earn The Addition money, which helps keep the newsletter and podcast going.
Sports, sans mansplaining.
The GIST is a forever-free newsletter that provides a refreshing female perspective on the most important headlines in sports. They’re inclusive, progressive, and not afraid to talk about anything—even the sexist bs 👀
From the Podcast
Adweek's Mark Stenberg on the Fallout From the Pandemic M&A Splurge - Mark Stenberg from Adweek returns to the show this week to discuss the state of things in the media industry, particularly what is going on in terms of post-pandemic M&A.
From the Blog
Streaming’s Content Cull Continues - Disney announced that it will be joining other services in slimming down the amount of content it has available on its streaming platforms.