Friday Round Up! 5/12/23
The CNN town hall debacle shows that we are likely in for a reprise of 2016 in the next election cycle.
This was kind of a roller coaster news week. A couple of the big stories were high points, which I’ll get to below. But the low point, as you may have heard, was CNN’s platforming of Trump on Wednesday’s night’s “town hall” — and apparently this was a MAGA town because the audience was stacked with Trump supporters who clapped and cheered on his insults, including one against moderator Kaitlan Collins. I didn’t watch the program — I’ve got 99 problems, as they say, and spending 70 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back watching Trump isn’t one of them. But I did see clips the day after and have been following the much deserved blowback on the network (including, apparently, from its own employees), since. I also think there is a legitimate question about how the media should handle covering Trump; especially if he becomes the Republican nominee, simply ignoring him isn’t going to be an option. But it seems like there is general consensus that the way to cover him wasn’t how it was done last Wednesday night. That’s why I was floored when I saw this clip from Anderson Cooper, suggesting that viewers who avoided the program were living in “silos” under the fantasy that doing so would make Trump go away. If only!
For the record, I love Anderson. I think he is an excellent journalist and always calls out the truth. Which is why his admonition was so disappointing. Perhaps the viewers opted out of watching Trump not because they have their heads in the sand, but because they are already so oversaturated with his ubiquitous media coverage that the town hall was going to be entirely predictable! Trump’s schtick is as stale as a crouton which might explain why, while CNN beat out its competitors in that time slot on Wednesday, Trump drew fewer viewers than he did in town halls on Fox in 2016 and 2020. Trump has decreasing marginal returns, though it’s not clear that CNN’s CEO, Chris Licht, realizes that.
Some have surmised that Licht’s showcasing of Trump is part of an attempt to bring CNN closer to the center, or even center right, in order to capture more conservative viewers. If so, Licht may have a completely flawed understanding of the media market. As I wrote in my piece, “Inside the Fox News Sausage Factory,” the right- and left-wing media ecosystems are asymmetrical. The vast majority of viewers who watch Fox will never leave Fox and come to CNN, because they are looking for consistently identity-confirming narratives — and as long as CNN adheres to traditional journalistic ethics and standards, it will never be able to deliver that. Which means that Fox viewers might turn on CNN to watch the town hall, but then they’ll go back to watching Fox. And if they leave Fox, they will go to another identity-confirming network, like OANN, or Newsmax, not to mainstream media. To the extent that there may be conservative viewers who have only one foot in the Fox bubble and one in mainstream media (and scholars like the ones whom I cite in the piece estimate that about 15% of Republicans fall into this category), I suspect they are already watching CNN anyway. In other words, it’s hard to see how Licht’s approach is going to gain a meaningful audience market share, or enough that will offset the people who stop watching the network because of those same programmatic decisions.
Anyway, I’ll be discussing the fallout of the town hall on Tuesday’s podcast with Renato Mariotti, including whether Trump may have exposed himself to more legal liability (civil and criminal) by his comments. Last week’s podcast discussed some developments in the Fulton County D.A. case, as well as the convictions in the Proud Boys trial. (We recorded this before the E. Jean Carroll verdict came out, but will cover that this coming week, since it’s connected to Trump’s CNN town hall comments.)
Articles worth reading:
No new pieces from me this week but if you are wondering about the profile of Elizabeth Holmes which Renato and I discuss at the end of last week’s podcast, you can check it out here. I hate to give it more clicks, but it’s another good illustration of how the media’s framing can rehabilitate people who have caused a lot of harm. (I’m a Theranos scandal junkie: If you want to learn all about the Theranos scandal, I highly recommend John Carreyou’s book, Bad Blood, the HBO documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, “The Dropout” podcast, and the Hulu series by the same name)
Noteworthy clips from this week:
I was on ABC News Live to discuss the George Santos indictment — this was definitely the high news point of the week and I cannot WAIT for this saga to unfold because gurrrrrrl you know it is just the beginning.
Zoom Office Hours, Wednesday, May 17 at 9 a.m. EDT. Zoom link will be sent to paid subscribers at 6 a.m.
Wine & Fries Happy Hour with Elie Mystal, author of Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, Sunday, May 21 at 8 p.m. EDT. Zoom link will be sent to Wine & Fries subscribers at 5 p.m..
Guest speaker Andrew McCabe, Wednesday, May 31 at 1 p.m. EDT. Zoom link will be sent to paid subscribers at 10 a.m. and a recording will be posted on Thursday
June/July Wine & Fries members event: Introduction to the Enneagram (date/time TBA): Did you know that I am a trained and accredited instructor in the Enneagram? I began studying it before it became cool. Learn about this great tool for understanding yourself and the people around you!
That’s it for this week. Remember to call/celebrate the moms in your life tomorrow and happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there!