CNN’s highly criticized town hall event with Donald Trump ― a broadcast filled with lies and inflammatory remarks by the former president and 2024 hopeful ― was met with similar indignation from the network’s own employees after it aired Wednesday night.
Senior media reporter Oliver Darcy was among the first to sound the alarm on his employer’s event in New Hampshire, which saw Trump take command of the stage as moderator Kaitlan Collins attempted to correct his falsehoods about the 2020 election and the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,” Darcy wrote in his Reliable Sources newsletter that night.
“On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage,” he continued. “And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.”
In one of the more shocking moments from the night, the audience composed of GOP and undeclared voters applauded when Trump mocked E. Jean Carroll, the journalist who this week won a lawsuit against him for defamation and sexual battery, as a “whack job.”
the CNN town hall audience laughs as Trump smears E Jean Carroll pic.twitter.com/HIokiAqIom
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2023
In a Thursday morning call with staffers, CNN Chairman and CEO Chris Licht reportedly praised the broadcast and appeared to take direct aim at Darcy’s remarks.
“America was served very well by what we did last night,” Licht said, according to a tweet by former CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter.
“You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them,” Licht added, telling employees that it’s their job to make news.
“While we all may have been uncomfortable hearing people clapping, that was also an important part of the story,” he continued, noting they represent “a large swath of America.”
But Darcy’s not the only CNN employee who has aired grievances about the town hall.
“I don’t know anyone who was happy with last night,” one unnamed journalist told Vanity Fair. “The mood is absolutely the lowest it’s been in the Licht tenure, and that’s saying a lot.”
Multiple CNN insiders also gave their reactions to Rolling Stone, calling the event “appalling,” “just brutal,” “a fucking disgrace” and “1000 percent a mistake.” One questioned why the network would arrange a town hall that was “stacked with his voters.”
Michael Fanone, the former Washington police officer who was assaulted by rioters during the 2021 Capitol attack, now serves as an on-air contributor for CNN. He told HuffPost that he was upset by the broadcast.
“It’s worse than I could have ever imagined. It’s an absolute disaster,” he said. “There’s no way to fact-check this guy in real time. He’s a volcano of bullshit.”
Fanone also criticized the network in a Wednesday op-ed for Rolling Stone, published with the headline “CNN Is Hosting a Town Hall for a Guy Who Tried to Get Me Killed.”
This came amid widespread denunciation from people outside the network, who said the town hall looked more like a campaign event for Trump and that CNN’s insistence on treating the former president ― a man who encouraged his supporters to reject the legitimate results of a democratic election ― like any other political candidate was a grave error.
“Tonight’s disaster must be a lesson that every other news organization on earth must learn: DO NOT NORMALIZE DONALD TRUMP,” The Lincoln Project, a Republican group opposing Trump, said in a statement this week. “CNN gave Trump 90 minutes of uninterrupted air time to rewrite history and reset his own narrative.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called CNN’s broadcast a “profoundly irresponsible decision” and condemned the network for letting Trump’s comments on Carroll air as they did.
“What we saw tonight was a series of extremely irresponsible decisions that put a sexual abuse victim at risk ... in front of a national audience,” she said, “and I could not have disagreed with it more.”