CNN star Anderson Cooper defended his network’s widely reviled town hall with former president Donald Trump, condemning “ridiculous lies” Trump told at the event, but also admonishing critics who feel that CNN should have never held it.
CNN and its chief executive, Chris Licht, were barraged with backlash from viewers, journalists at other outlets and even some network employees after hosting what one critic called a “predictably disastrous” town hall, during which Trump repeatedly lied despite moderator Kaitlan Collins’s attempts to correct him.
During the 70-minute event, Trump recycled false claims of “a rigged election” in 2020, derailed several of Collins’s questions and at one point called the moderator “a nasty person” while the Republican audience members frequently applauded. Trump also used the opportunity to insult writer E. Jean Carroll, whom a New York civil jury ruled this week had been sexually abused and defamed by Trump.
Cooper echoed the disapproval from some of his colleagues as he opened his Thursday-evening show, calling Trump’s attacks and the audience’s laughter and cheers “disturbing.”
“Many of you are upset that someone who attempted to destroy our democracy was invited to sit on the stage in front of a crowd of Republican voters to answer questions and predictably continue to spew lie after lie after lie,” Cooper said. “As good a job as Kaitlan Collins did trying to fact-check him, it is impossible to fact-check fully because he lies so shamelessly.”
But the broadcaster ultimately defended CNN’s decision to host the forum, saying that even if audiences don’t align with Trump’s views, they need to keep abreast of his comments in case he is reelected in 2024.
“The man you were so disturbed to see and hear from last night, that man is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president,” Cooper said. “And that audience that upset you, that’s a sampling of about half the country. They are your family members, your neighbors, and they are voting. And many said they’re voting for him.”
Viewers on social media weren’t much impressed with Cooper’s speech. “Cooper is among the privileged Uber rich who don’t have to live with the consequences they create,” attorney Eric Ruben tweeted.
Even some fans of Trump’s performance panned Cooper’s apologia for the town hall. “That was almost as bad as Joe Scarborough’s meltdown,” Collin Rugg, who co-owns the right-wing website TrendingPoliticsNews.com, tweeted, referring to the MSNBC host’s morose condemnation of Trump’s behavior on-air.
Although the town hall drew better ratings than usual for CNN’s 8 p.m. news, it attracted only 3.1 million viewers, which was less than last year’s town hall with President Biden, and many of Trump’s town halls on Fox News.