Anderson Cooper, company man
CNN's response to critics of its Trump rally makes one thing clear: The cable channel hates its viewers
After CNN produced and aired a Republican-voters-only Trump rally,1 drawing criticism for giving live airtime to a congenital liar, inciter-of-armed-insurrection, and virulent racist to once again mock the woman who just won a civil judgement for Trump’s previous defamation (and sexual assault!) of her, CNN had a choice: It could apologize, it could keep quiet and wait for things to blow over, or it could wage a deeply dishonest gaslighting campaign against its own viewers.
You see where this is going, right?
CNN president Chris Licht kicked things off this morning, insisting “You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them,”2 adding “Kaitlan pressed him again and again and made news. Made a LOT of news. … that is our job.”
A lot of people think a journalist’s job is to report news, not to make it. But … oh, we’ll come back to that in a second. First:
The media (CNN included) actually spent much of 2015/16 televising Trump rallies, and marveling at how many people attended them. The claim that the media “screwed up by missing” Trump’s appeal to “a large swath of America” is preposterous. But about those “people clapping” — and now we’ll return to CNN’s decision to “make” news rather than simply reporting it. First, keep in mind that the audience wasn’t a randomly-selected group of Americans; it was intentionally screened to be Republican voters: CNN orchestrated an applauding audience. After the rally, Puck News interviewed Matthew Bartlett, a former Trump administration appointee who was in the audience — and, according to Bartlett, the crowd was explicitly told they could applaud but not boo:
Were there ground rules for the audience?
They did some warm up with the audience ahead of time. One of the questions was, Are there any conditions? And Kaitlan said, No, there are no conditions. And someone asked if [Trump] knew the questions ahead of time and she said he didn’t. I think a lot of people were prepared to ask questions. The floor manager came out ahead of time and said, Please do not boo, please be respectful. You were allowed to applaud. And I think that set the tone where people were going to try their best to keep this between the navigational beacons, and that if they felt compelled to applaud, they would, but they weren’t going to have an outburst or they weren’t going to boo an answer.
On the merits, this is an absolutely massive media scandal. CNN broadcast a Trump event, portrayed as a “town hall,” but the attendees were explicitly told they could applaud but not boo Trump. And according to Bartlett, there were attendees who were “disgusted” by Trump’s responses — but that didn’t come through on television because they had been told they could applaud but not boo:
There were plenty of people in that room that were ardent supporters of President Trump, and no matter what he said, they were ready to jump out of their seats and applaud. But there were also people that sat there quietly disgusted or bewildered. In a TV setting, you hear the applause, but you don’t see the disgust.
I remember walking out and people in the front row were like, He’s talking some crazy stuff, and I think a lot of these lawsuits are adding up. There was heavy skepticism. He kind of lost the audience at some point when he was rambling about January 6th and the back and forth around the tweets. […]
Unfortunately, I think that when people hear applause on TV, they just assume that the entire room was on his side, but that just wasn’t the case.
This is not, as CNN’s Chris Licht portrays it, a news company reporting on the existence of support for Trump; it’s a news company orchestrating a broadcast to accentuate support for Trump and silence those who disliked his responses. It is CNN making news instead of reporting it. It is fundamentally dishonest.3
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 frontrunner 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 of the 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. 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 can’t 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. You have every right to be outraged today and angry, and 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?
This is just breathtakingly dishonest, condescending, and hypocritical.
I’ll take the last part first — the hypocrisy. Here is Anderson Cooper, a multimillionaire dozens of times over thanks to a hefty salary from the cable channel he is so piously defending,5 ridiculing CNN critics for siloing themselves away so they don’t have to hear a word they disagree with — and he’s doing it as a monologue on the television show he hosts! Cooper could have invited a critic of the CNN/Trump rally on his show; could have given the critic a chance to counter his defense of CNN. But he chose instead to hide behind a monologue, siloed away, safe from counterpoint and disagreement. Like a coward, hoping those he disagrees with will simply go away if he ignores them long enough. He did exactly what he claimed CNN critics are doing. Pathetic cowardice and pathetic hypocrisy.
And of course CNN’s critics6 aren’t siloed away, unaware of what Trump says. They can’t be — it’s virtually impossible to be unaware of the crap that oozes out of Donald Trump’s mouth; news companies like CNN constantly report the things he says and does. And critics aren’t saying CNN shouldn’t do that. They’re saying CNN should do it responsibly. They’re saying that there’s a difference between reporting on Trump and giving him a platform. They’re saying that CNN shouldn’t give him more than an hour of live airtime to lie and spread hatred in front of a hand-picked audience of adoring fans.
And speaking of that audience, the one Anderson Cooper so condescendingly insisted was a “sampling” of about half the country, as though anyone is unaware that Trump has fans, and as though broadcasting the audience was some kind of important piece of journalism? That audience was instructed that they could applaud but not boo. It was an orchestrated event, a fictionalization.
Think about how much contempt you have to have for your audience to behave the way Anderson Cooper did tonight. To condescendingly, and dishonestly, lecture your audience for not wanting to listen to a (carefully stage-managed) crowd cheer on a man who regularly incites violence as he mocks a woman he has already lost a civil judgement for defaming and sexually assaulting are nothing but snowflakes. To ridicule your audience for being afraid to hear disagreement — and doing it in a monologue instead of in conversation with a guest who might push back on your dishonest portrayal of critics.
Few people in the entire world are as safely siloed away as Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt family scion and lavishly-compensated employee of a company that is actively promoting a presidential candidate who is a threat to the fundamental rights — and physical safety — of many of Cooper’s viewers. And Cooper uses his safe and secure position to lie to, and about, those viewers on behalf of the company that pays him and endangers them.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
CNN prefers to call it a “town hall” but nope! I’m not playing along. You’ll see why soon enough.
“What does that even mean?,” you may be wondering. Nothing! It doesn’t mean a damn thing!
See? Not a “town hall.”
Probably a coincidence.