As soon as it was announced that CNN had invited Donald Trump on for a town hall, critics immediately and harshly blasted the network, wondering why in the world it would hand a megaphone to a former president who is known to lie, twist history, undermine democracy and is facing a slew of legal troubles.
Turns out, those fears were realized. Fully realized.
This wasn’t a town hall. It was a Trump rally.
A defiant Trump — playing all of his greatest hits of a rigged 2020 election and revisionist history about practically everything involving his presidency — steamrolled over CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday night and basically gave a 1 hour, 9 minute long infomercial in front of a very supportive and boisterous crowd of Republican and undeclared voters in New Hampshire.
This was no fault of Collins. She tried. She was poised and obviously prepared. She pushed back often. She did her job.
It made no difference. Trump ignored Collins, dismissed her questions, vaguely danced around the facts and was often bailed out by an enthusiastic audience that laughed at his jokes and clapped at most everything he said.
When Trump said that 2020 was a “rigged election,” Collins snapped back, “It was not a rigged election. It was not a stolen election.”
When she asked him to admit he lost the election, he refused to do so.
At one point, when pressing Trump about his role in Jan. 6, Collins said, “There’s no evidence of that election fraud.”
Trump said, “You’re supposed to say that.”
Collins said, “It’s the truth, Mr. President.”
At another point, Collins said, “The election was not rigged, Mr. President. You cannot keep saying that all night long.”
There were a couple of moments when Collins clearly got under Trump’s skin. She called out his false claims about the border wall, causing him to blurt out, “This is what she does.”
Then, late in the town hall, he called her “a nasty person” — to which many in the audience laughed and applauded.
Collins didn’t back down and the remark didn’t seem to faze her at all. But, overall, Collins was barely a speed bump. As much as she tried, Trump would not stop his cavalcade of lies and ducking of questions, and he seemed bolstered as the night wore on, realizing that Collins and only Collins — and not a single person in the audience — was going to push back on his outrageous claims.
Audience members asked about the economy, immigration, Roe v. Wade, guns and Ukraine. Collins followed up when he didn’t fully answer the audience’s softballs, and she pushed him on his legal issues, including the documents found in his Mar-a-Lago home and the news Tuesday that a Manhattan jury found him liable of sexual assault and defamation. Even when there were legitimate questions, Trump didn’t really answer them.
Such as? When asked about the war in Ukraine, he said he would end it in one day. The crowd applauded, but he never said exactly how, even after Collins asked him.
On the vast majority of his answers, Trump said something that wasn’t true and, practically every time, Collins was prepared with pertinent follow ups. She wasn’t afraid to interrupt and talk over him, but it really made no difference. Trump just plowed forward.
In the end, this was a mess. But it wasn’t a mess of Collins’ doing.
This is all on CNN.
To be clear, I supported CNN’s choice to have Trump on the air. He’s the former president and the leading candidate to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024. If a legitimate news network can’t ask him tough questions, who will? I wrote that CNN absolutely should have him on its air.
But the critics were right. This turned out even worse than what I thought a worse-case scenario would be.
When you have someone who doesn’t play by the rules of truthfulness and honesty and fully answering questions, there is no chance for accountability or productive conversation.
For example, that time when Collins told Trump that he couldn’t keep saying all night long that the election was rigged, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple tweeted, “Oh yeah? Just watch him. Just watch him.”
Many of the dozen — yeah, that’s a real number — commentators that CNN had on in its “postgame” coverage repeated the same talking points that this is the Trump they knew and expected. Yet not one pointed a finger at CNN for airing this mayhem, at least in the immediate aftermath.
According to The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona, a CNN staffer told him, “One of the worst hours I’ve ever seen on our air.”
In the end, it was a great night for Trump. It wasn’t a bad night for Collins. In fact, she performed well. She showed her journalism chops.
For CNN? It was a disaster.
They — and I — should’ve known better.
And now onto the rest of today’s newsletter …
NYT ends quarter with $22.3 million profit
For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.
The New York Times reported a net income of $22.3 million in the first quarter of 2023, as it grew its digital subscriptions by 190,000, the company announced Wednesday.
“Our performance in the quarter reflects our strategy playing out as it was designed to, with our high quality product portfolio and multi-revenue stream model giving us a variety of levers for growth, even in an uncertain market,” president and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said during an earnings call with shareholders.
That strategy includes increasing subscriptions to the New York Times bundle, which comprises the journalism found on the flagship nytimes.com site, the product review site Wirecutter and the sports website The Athletic, as well as the Games and Cooking verticals. The average bundle subscriber is more engaged and pays more than those who subscribe to a single product, according to the company.
The Times now has more than 9.7 million subscribers and is on track to hit its goal of 15 million by the end of 2027, Kopit Levien said. Those subscriptions will be especially important as advertising revenue fluctuates. Advertising was “down more than we expected” in the first quarter, Kopit Levien said, though she noted the company viewed the trend as “cyclical.”
During the first quarter, the Times started rolling out price increases for roughly 550,000 digital news and Games subscribers, which will mostly take effect next quarter. The company plans to notify an additional million subscribers of price increases by the end of the year.
The company also announced Wednesday that it has appointed chief strategy officer William Bardeen as its new executive vice president and CFO. Current CFO Roland A. Caputo will stay with the company through Sept. 30.
New York Times stock fell 7.76% after the earnings call Wednesday and closed at $36.14 a share.
One more note about the New York Times
The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin reported, “The Athletic, which the company purchased last year for $550 million in cash, had 3.3 million subscribers at the end of the quarter, more than double the number in the same period last year. Despite that, losses at The Athletic were $7.8 million, up about 14 percent from a year earlier. The company said that The Athletic’s losses seemed more pronounced because the company had owned the site for only two of three months in the first quarter of 2022.”
My colleague Angela Fu told me that the Times reported weekly active users for The Athletic was up 50% year-over-year and that Caputo said the increase in subscribers to The Athletic is primarily coming from those buying the bundle. He said, “We’re actually much more focused on opening up that funnel and building the audience for The Athletic than selling individual subs.”
In addition, Kopit Levien said the company took longtime advertising staff from the Times and sent them to The Athletic for major support.
“The idea behind that is you take the playbook from The New York Times, which is premium ad canvases and first party data, and build that on The Athletic, and we really like what we see so far,” Kopit Levien said. “The whole ad market is obviously uncertain and complicated, and there’s lots of pressure, but The Athletic is starting from a tiny base. Even in a tough market, if you’ve got a great product, you can really get growth, and we like what we’re seeing.”
The other shoe
Fox News’ headaches over the 2020 election coverage didn’t end when it settled the lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems. Next up is the $2.7 billion suit filed by Smartmatic, another voting technology company.
In court filings made public on Wednesday, Smartmatic has subpoenaed Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign to turn over documents involving Smartmatic, Fox News and other false allegations made about the 2020 election results.
As CNN’s Oliver Darcy notes, “Once served, the Trump campaign can fight it in court. A judge could then quash it, narrow its scope or let it stand.”
And there’s more from The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers: “New Defamation Suit Against Fox Signals Continued Legal Threat.”
Watch your step
The White House is putting its foot down. It’s proposing new rules about press decorum. That includes who should be allowed into press briefings on a regular basis and who can be kicked out for not being “professional.”
Simon Ateba, a journalist for Today News Africa, thinks these new crackdowns are aimed at him. He has had notable shouting matches with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre that even bothered some of his journalist colleagues.
In a tweet last week, Ateba passed along the new rule proposals and said that they targeted him. He wrote, “It’s crazy what’s going on. How can a guy come from Africa and you have to change the rules because of him?”
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote, “Some reporters and others suggest that the language is so broad that it hands President Biden and future presidents sweeping powers to act against a reporter, and that it wouldn’t hold up if contested in court.”
The end of an era
I still remember where I heard in 1994 that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was dead: from Kurt Loder on MTV News.
Those of us of a certain age can still see the spinning MTV satellite and then an old typewriter ball clanging on the screen with the word “N-E-W-S.” The MTV News updates came to viewers from such trusted music journalists as Loder, Tabitha Soren, SuChin Pak, Gideon Yago and Alison Stewart.
Well, this week, MTV News has come to an end. Thirty-six years after it started, MTV News was shut down, caught up in the layoffs of Paramount Global.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin wrote, “Along the way, MTV News created some pop culture moments itself, perhaps none bigger than in 1994, when President Clinton appeared on MTV’s ‘Enough Is Enough,’ a town hall addressing violence in America.”
Weprin notes that it was during that town hall that an audience member asked Clinton if he wears boxers or briefs. That question then became a running and lighter bit during future serious town halls that included the likes of Barack Obama, John McCain, Bill Gates and others.
The popularity and impact of MTV News grew smaller in recent years. Be sure to check out Weprin’s story for more MTV News details.
- Can Tucker Carlson really make it work with a show on Twitter? Semafor’s Ben Smith and Max Tani break it down with “Inside Tucker Carlson’s new media plan.”
- And here’s Brian Stelter for Vanity Fair: “Tucker Carlson is daring Fox to stop him from doing a show on Twitter.”
- The Associated Press’ Michelle Chapman and Barbara Ortutay with “Disney posts higher second-quarter earnings and revenue thanks to strong theme parks business.”
- Agence France Presse video coordinator Arman Soldin was killed this week by rocket fire in eastern Ukraine. Here’s more from AFP.
- Tom Llamas will be anchoring a special edition of his NBC News NOW newscast “Top Story” Thursday and Friday live from El Paso as the U.S. braces for the end of Title 42.
- Nieman Lab’s Sarah Scire with “The Athletic’s live audio rooms bring sports talk radio into this century.”
- Jason McIntyre — the sidekick on Colin Cowherd’s radio/TV show — has had some questionable takes over his career, but most of them are reserved for sports. On Wednesday, however, he called the city of Chicago a “war zone” and compared it to Afghanistan. Ugh, seriously? McIntyre later tweeted, “Thanks. Great show today, lots of fun, lots of laughs. Also, hello, Chicago! That Toddlin’ Town. Wrigleyville rules. Alinea the best meal I’ve ever had. Haven’t been in 15 years, go Bears!” Not exactly an apology. Awful Announcing’s Brandon Contes has more.
The Washington Post’s Gillian Brockell with “MLK’s famous criticism of Malcolm X was a ‘fraud,’ author finds.”
And let’s close with a little fun today, shall we? I love this list because No. 1 is spot-on correct and my pick for the best song of the 1980s. The Ringer’s Michael Tedder with “The Cure’s 50 Best Songs, Ranked.”
More resources for journalists
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- Join us for An Evening with Denis Phillips — May 12, at The Straz (Tampa). Get tickets.
- Editorial Integrity and Leadership Initiative — (Sept. – April, 2024) (Hybrid) — Apply by May 15.
- Sign up for Beat Academy (Now-Oct. 19) (Webinar series) — You’ll get tips, sources, inspiration and ideas to cover emerging newsroom beats. Enroll now.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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