MATTHEWS: CNN got what it asked for with Trump town hall spectacle 

Signage is seen at CNN center, Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Earlier this month, CNN shocked seasoned political observers and Average Joe and Jane voters alike with the announcement they’d be hosting a primary town hall event in New Hampshire with 2024 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump being the featured participant alongside moderator Kaitlan Collins, who is also the co-host of the network’s weekday “This Morning” program. 

CNN and Trump, as many will recall, have had a highly acrimonious relationship since Trump’s time as president, with the struggling “news” outlet reporting one “walls are closing in” Trump story after another that usually turned out to be nothingburgers.  

During his time in the Oval Office, Trump sometimes would, in so many words, tell some of their more notorious reporters like Jim Acosta, who frequently talked about the “threat to democracy” that Trump allegedly presented, to shove it. 

So naturally, it would only make sense that CNN would pursue Trump for months through his handlers to try and get him to agree to a town hall appearance, right? 

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened, with Trump taking the stage last Wednesday in front of a crowd of Republican and independent voters alike. 

Things got off to a rocky start — not for Trump but for Collins. Despite her best efforts, she could not contain Trump’s high energy and eagerness to debunk CNN’s narratives while engaging with and charming the crowd, which he did with relative ease throughout the roughly broadcast. 

In essence, Trump dominated the town hall gathering as he often has in these types of public appearances, so much so that what was supposed to be a 90-minute back-and-forth turned out to be just under 70 minutes. 

As Puck News senior correspondent Dylan Byers noted after the town hall concluded, ending the broadcast early was not CNN’s original intention. 

“The CNN Town Hall was a 90-minute broadcast, though the network expected the actual event to go as long as 75 minutes,” Byers tweeted. “They stopped less than 70 minutes in. In other words, they could have gone longer if they wanted — which is usually what executives do with big ratings draws.” 

In something I’ve rarely seen happen on Twitter, literally every trending item for the U.S. was related to the town hall, with many of them related to boycotting CNN or mocking them, with what was left of their loyal viewers outraged that Trump got the upper hand and a free 70 minutes of campaign airtime in the process. 

But not only did the event upset their viewers, it also divided the newsroom. Anchors Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper were visibly upset in comments they made after the show ended, and other media figures in the newsroom let CNN CEO Chris Licht know it that night and the next morning during a conference call. 

In Media World, it has sometimes been said that “any press is good press” regardless of how negative it is because it gets your name out there and gets people talking. But at a time when CNN is already cratering viewers, firing troublesome longtime anchors like Don Lemon and frantically making even more lineup changes on top of the ones they made starting last summer, I’d say the massive pushback on their town hall is the absolute last thing they needed at this difficult (for them) time. 

That said, on one all-important level, CNN came out on top after the town hall. 

It “drew 3.3 million viewers Wednesday night, making CNN the most-watched cable news network of the evening, according to final ratings from Nielsen,” Axios reported, confirming another Media World reality as well — sometimes the spectacle is the point. 

North Carolina native Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a media analyst and regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.