The morning after the channel’s widely pilloried “town hall” with former president Donald Trump, CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht defended the program in a call with staffers.
“While we all may have been uncomfortable hearing people clapping, that was also an important part of the story,” Licht said, according to journalist Brian Stelter, adding that Trump’s supporters are “a large swath of America.”
On his own show Thursday night, CNN host Anderson Cooper made a similar argument.
“That man you were so upset to hear from last night, he may be president of the United States in less than two years, and that audience that upset you, that’s a sampling of about half the country,” Cooper said. “… You have every right to be outraged and angry, never watch this network again. But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?”
To a large extent, this is a false dichotomy. The choice is not between not understanding Trump’s politics at all and giving him an opportunity to speak live on cable television. To suggest that it is, in fact, is to undermine all of the other excellent reporting on Trump that occurs on CNN and elsewhere. But it’s a useful dichotomy to imply if you’re facing blowback for hosting Trump.
The arguments from Licht and Cooper are also worth considering, too, because they overstate the purported need. Yes, tens of millions of Americans support Trump. But they are neither a quiet, unexamined segment of the population nor half of it.
That first point is easily demonstrated. Every time there’s a presidential election, cable news channels like CNN and its competitors spend some time talking about the candidates’ supporters.
You can see that below: In 2012, as Mitt Romney was challenging President Barack Obama, CNN mentioned his supporters in nearly 1,000 15-second blocks. In 2016, as Hillary Clinton was seeking the presidency, her supporters were mentioned in more than 3,800 blocks of airtime. The pattern on the other major cable-news channels was similar.
You’ll notice that Trump and his supporters aren’t included above. That’s because he breaks the scale.
CNN has collectively mentioned the supporters of Obama, Romney, Clinton and President Biden about 10,000 times since January 2010. It has mentioned Trump’s supporters more than 22,000 times. The pattern is similar on the other cable-news channels: Mentions of Trump supporters far exceed the other candidates, combined. On MSNBC, as on CNN, it’s a 2 to 1 ratio. [Continue reading…]