The announcement that CNN will host a New Hampshire town hall event for Donald Trump was met with widespread criticism on Monday.
Angelo Carusone, chief executive of Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog, said: “The transparent attempt to goose their ratings does feel at least a little odious. But all the more reason that they need to get this right.”
Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter, said: “First, CNN systematically purged anyone on the network who was deemed too anti-Trump. Now this.”
Keith Olbermann, a Trump critic and former MSNBC host, said: “I think we can say Chris Licht’s conversion of CNN into a political and journalistic whorehouse is complete.”
Licht took over from Jeff Zucker as CNN’s chief executive last year, with a mission to remodel.
Announcing the event to be held at St Anselm College on Wednesday 10 May, CNN said: “The former president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate will take questions from [anchor Kaitlan] Collins and a live audience of New Hampshire Republican and undeclared voters who say they intend to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.”
Trump and CNN were at odds throughout Trump’s run for the White House and his presidency, over what he deemed its hostile coverage and liberal slant. Collins, a morning show anchor, formerly worked for the Daily Caller, a website cofounded by Tucker Carlson, the far-right anchor fired by Fox News last week.
In polling regarding the Republican nomination next year, Trump enjoys commanding leads.
He continues to peddle the lie that Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 was the result of electoral fraud. On 6 January 2021, he used that lie to incite an attack on Congress now linked to nine deaths and carried out by supporters seeking to block Biden’s win.
More than 1,000 arrests have been made and hundreds of convictions secured, some for seditious conspiracy. Trump was impeached a second time but acquitted when Republican senators stayed loyal to him.
He now faces a federal investigation of his election subversion and incitement of the Capitol attack, as well as a state election subversion investigation, in Georgia, in which indictments are expected this summer.
In New York, Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges over a hush money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels. In the same state, a civil rape case brought by the writer E Jean Carroll is at trial while a civil lawsuit brought by the state continues, over Trump’s tax and business practices.
Jack Smith, a federal special counsel, is also investigating Trump’s retention of classified materials.
CNN said it had “a longstanding tradition of hosting leading presidential candidates for town halls and political events as a critical component of the network’s robust campaign coverage”.
It also said the Trump event would be “the first of many in the coming months as CNN correspondents travel across the country to hear directly from voters”.
Carusone said: “Donald Trump is the frontrunner for Republican nomination; it benefits no one to pretend otherwise.
“But this is risky business and CNN should go into this clear-eyed: Trump will lie and he will attack. Trump has been repeating the same torrent of lies in his speeches and interviews with rightwing media figures for months. Nothing he will say will be new.
“So if CNN lets him get away with it unchallenged, they have no excuse. CNN isn’t being graded on a curve here.”
Carusone also pointed to cable networks’ struggles since Trump left office.
“I can’t help but notice that this comes just as Fox’s ratings are in freefall and CNN’s shift hasn’t borne any fruit,” he said.
David Rothkopf, a Daily Beast columnist and author of Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump, called CNN’s decision “irresponsible”.
The town hall, he said, would be “a sham if it does not lead with the question, ‘You lead an insurrection against the government of the US, why should any American voter support a candidate who sought to undermine the constitution, institutions and values he was sworn to uphold?’”
A CNN spokesperson said: “There is certainly a lot of news to cover with him and we’ll do that next Wednesday.”
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