Thursday, May 11, 2023

CNN gave its star anchor, Alabama's Kaitlan Collins, the thankless task of trying to rein in Donald Trump, and just as in 2016, the network's plan bombed


Donald Trump and Kaitlan Collins

Anyone who thought Donald Trump might be a more disciplined presidential candidate in 2024 than he was in 2016 can put those hopes to rest. The orange "Lyin' King" turned last night's CNN town hall into a free-for-all, spewing a cascade of false, deceptive, nutty, and insulting statements so voluminous that it was a struggle to keep track of it all. 

Were there any winners from this over-the-top performance, which made old-style, scripted Championship Wrestling look like Masterpiece Theater? Trump probably was a winner -- at least with his base, which seemed to make up most of the live audience. Non-MAGA Americans -- those perhaps hoping to be enlightened a bit -- were losers. But the biggest loser was CNN, whose executives likely woke up this morning, asking, "Where do we go to get our reputation back?"

MSNBC, perhaps breathing a sigh of relief that it did not get involved with the latest installment of "Train-Wreck Televison," offered up stellar coverage at its Web site. Consider this piece under the headline "CNN's Trump town hall was always doomed to fail; but truly, what did CNN or Kaitlan Collins think would happen?" Writes Medhi Hasan:

"They learned nothing and forgot nothing."

Those famous words have been attributed to the 19th century French diplomat Talleyrand, supposedly in reference to the Bourbon dynasty that replaced Napoleon.

But he could have been referring to CNN in the age of Donald Trump.

Looking back on the 2016 election , the network's former chief Jeff Zucker admitted that it was a "mistake" for CNN to have run Trump rallies, live and uninterrupted, and to have allowed him to "say outrageous things, or say things that weren't true."

Yet, last night, seven years on from that car-crash coverage, CNN and CEO Chris Licht offered the twice-impeached and newly indicted ex-president, who was also found liable for defamation and sexual abuse just this week, another prime-time platform to once again "say outrageous things, or say things that weren't true."

Worse, the network put its star anchor and interviewer Kaitlan Collins in a room full of Trump supporters, who laughed at their cult leaders' crass jokes and applauded his cheap insults -- including jabs at Collins herself. (By my count, seven of the nine audience questions came from people who supported Trump's 2020 re-election bid!)

I take special umbrage at Trump calling Ms. Collins a "nasty person." Just shows that "classless" is among the many adjectives that can be applied to Trump. Kaitlan Collins is from Prattville, Alabama, and graduated from the University of Alabama. I spent most of my adult life in Alabama, and Legal Schnauzer was born when we lived in Birmingham, so I've grown rather fond of women from "The Heart of Dixie." Heck, I've been married to one for almost 34 years.

As for Kaitlan, she certainly is easy on the eyes, but I suspect she is way more than a pretty face. She likely had to use hustle and serious journalistic chops to find her way to the  upper reaches of CNN.

Given that Donald Trump likely has one or more mood disorders -- and numerous experts in the field of psychology have written on this topic -- Kaitlan Collins had little chance of moderating a town hall that would be orderly and produce real news. (For the record, I've had cause to read several books on personality disorders, and my amateur's guess is that Trump has some combination of narcissistic personality, antisocial personality, and  histrionic personality. My non-clinical diagnosis? Trump is a "pain in the ass," and that means Kaitlan Collins had almost  no chance of moderating a town hall that would be little more than a "wall of sound" from Tump.)

Medhi Hasan seems to understand that Ms. Collins was in an unwinnable predicament:

The former president, as I point out in my book Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating,Persuading, and Public Speaking, is a master of the Gish Gallop; he specializes in overwhelming interviewers with a "relentless barrage of falsehoods" and drowning them "in a deluge of distortions, deflections, and distractions."

So CNN, with this ridiculous town-hall format and an audience seemingly recruited "from the Mar-a-Lago parking lot," put its own anchor in a position to fail. The only way Collins could have even semi-succeeded would have been if she had ignored the audience and the format entirely and instead tried to pin Trump down on each and every one of his false and offensive statements.

Of course the CNN anchor didn't -- couldn't -- do that. But format aside, she didn't do herself any favors, either.

 How could a moderator accomplish such a task, while on live television and likely feeling an obligation to treat a former president -- even a really bad one -- with a certain level of respect. I, for one, with quite a few years in the  media business -- don't see how it could be done. Writes Hasan:

When Trump denied he had suggested "terminating" parts of the Constitution, Collins didn't correct him.

When Trump falsely claimed he finished building his border wall, Collins tried to correct him -- but he just talked over her.

And when Trump made a racist remark about Chinatown, Collins said nothing whatsoever. Nor did she defend herself when he called her a "nasty person."

Sorry, but -- as predicted -- this was a clear win for Trump. He felt no pressure and conceded nothing. He was welcomed onto CNN to address an audience of non-Republicans watching at home and an audience of loyal Republicans in that hall in New Hampshire. Win-win.

So what did CNN or Collins think would happen? Did they really have no plan to deal with Trump's belligerent nonsense? Did they really learn nothing and forget nothing?

Perhaps the most revealing -- and depressing moment -- of the entire show came when a flailing Collins tried, once again, to interrupt Trump's Gish Gallop on the "rigged" 2020 election.

"The election was not rigged, Mr. President," she said, with some desperation in her voice. "You can't keep saying that all night long."

Actually . .  he could. He did. And CNN helped him do it.

No comments: