Anderson Cooper Addresses Backlash To CNN’s Town Hall With Donald Trump: “I Get It. It Was Disturbing”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper devoted a portion of his primetime program to address the backlash against the network for its town hall with Donald Trump, in which the Republican spewed lies and misinformation before a friendly, cheering audience.

“You have every right to be outraged and angry and never watch this network again,” Cooper told viewers. “But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?”

Cooper’s comments were a defense of the network’s decision to go forward with the town hall, plans that drew criticism for the past week as many predicted that moderator Kaitlan Collins would be able to fully fact-check Trump in real time. While she did try to call out some of his misinformation, Trump seemed emboldened by the friendly audience, and at times veered from one topic to the next, and never conceded that the 2020 presidential election was legitimate.

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“Many of you have expressed deep anger and disappointment,” Cooper said. “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 continued to spew lie after lie after lie. And I get it. It was disturbing.”

After running through a list of Trump’s falsehoods and outrageous comments, Cooper said “it was certainly disturbing to hear that audience young and old, our fellow citizens, people who love their kids and go to church, laugh and applaud his lies. And his continued defamation of a woman who according to a jury of his peers, he sexually abused and defamed.”

Perhaps most disturbing was when Trump was asked about a jury’s $5 million verdict finding him liable for sexually assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll. Trump mocked her and called the trial “rigged,” while getting applause and even laughs from the audience. The New York Times reported that Carroll is now weighing whether to file a new defamation lawsuit against Trump based on the comments he made during the event.

CNN Worldwide CEO Chris Licht is facing criticism from outside and inside the network over the decision to do the town hall with Trump. He also defended the event in a staff call this morning. “There is so much we learned last night about what a second Trump presidency would look like, that is incredibly important for the country to hear,” Licht said.

Some journalists, like Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan, have been able to pin Trump down in one-on-one interviews, interrupting him before he launched into a stream of mistruths. But those were pre-recorded sit downs, not live and not before an audience.

After the event on Wednesday, Mark Lukasiewicz, a former network news executive who is now dean at Hofstra University’s School of Communication, wrote, “Live lying works. Live fact checking does not.” Others also blamed the format as playing to Trump’s strengths and even normalizing him.

In his remarks, Cooper not only made the case that the network could not ignore the front runner for the GOP nomination, but that it was also important for viewers to realize the extent of his support, as disturbing as Trump’s words and the audience’s reaction may have been.

He told viewers that “as good a job as Kaitlan Collins did in trying to fact check him, it is impossible to fact check fully because he lies so shamelessly. Now, many of you think CNN shouldn’t have given him any platform to speak, and I understand the anger about that, giving him the audience, the time, I get that. But this is what I also get. 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. And according to polling, no other Republican is even close. That man you were so upset to hear from last night, he may be president United States in less than two years. 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.”

He added, “Now, maybe you haven’t been paying attention to him since he left office. Maybe you’ve been enjoying not hearing from him thinking it cannot happen again, some investigation is going to stop him. Well, it hasn’t so far. So if last night showed anything, it showed it can happen again. It is happening again. He hasn’t changed, and he is running hard.”

Collins anchored CNN’s 9 p.m. hour tonight, opening the show by making the case that the town hall “was a major inflection point in the Republican party’s search for its next nominee and potentially the starting line for America’s next presidential race.” She, too, noted that Trump was the Republican front runner.

The town hall had a viewership of 3.3 million, enough for CNN to win the time slot against its rivals and the evening itself. But given the heavy promotion and buzz in the political press, the audience was still below six other similar events on Fox News and behind the audience of a town hall featuring Joe Biden in 2020.

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