CNN’s town hall with former President Donald Trump is tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern. But Trump might not be the most important person on stage tonight. All eyes and ears are going to be on moderator Kaitlan Collins.
Although after Tuesday’s major news that Trump was found liable of sexual assault in a civil trial, the former president will be under a hotter spotlight than he might have previously expected when he signed up to go on CNN.
First, let’s look at Collins. This town hall is a plum assignment for the 31-year-old, but she might be in a no-win situation.
If Trump has what would be considered a good night, Collins likely will get dragged by the left for letting Trump run wild. If Trump’s night goes sour, Collins will be blamed by Trump supporters, and probably Trump himself, for being biased against him.
Knowing that, Collins needs to ignore what the postgame reaction will be and simply do her job.
But what, exactly, is her job?
First and foremost, Collins is a facilitator — setting up audience members to ask questions of Trump. The audience is supposedly going to be made up of New Hampshire Republican and undeclared voters who say they intend to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
But once Trump starts talking, Collins’ job is to shift immediately into a fact-checker and, for lack of a better word, referee. It’s her job to keep it fair, and to make sure that Trump doesn’t go off on tangents full of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection or make any false claims about his potential Republican opponents or President Joe Biden.
And how much will Trump have to talk about Tuesday’s news that a jury found him liable of sexual assault and defamation? That has become the question heading into the town hall.
Making it even tougher, Collins will have to do all this in real time. Sure, she likely will have help from producers in her earpiece, but it will be up to Collins to be the first, and perhaps only, line of defense against any of Trump’s potential lies. Most likely, she will have to be the one to question him about being found liable of sexual assault.
And, as Associated Press media reporter David Bauder points out, she’ll have to do it in a “potentially hostile environment” — that is, a room full of Republicans.
What’s interesting is that CNN had plenty of choices for moderators. They could have gone with anchors more experienced than Collins, such as Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash. But Collins got the call.
These days, Collins is co-host of CNN’s revamped morning show, but before that, she was a White House correspondent and has had her fair share of clashes with Trump. New York Times’ reporter Maggie Haberman told Bauder, “She has had a pretty meteoric rise at a young age because of her talent. She was a formidable White House correspondent, always calm under pressure, but she is also incredibly fair and facts-focused.”
Calm under pressure, fair and facts-focused seem like the ideal qualities for someone to moderate a town hall with Trump.
What else is at stake for Collins?
If Collins can walk the tightrope tonight without falling off, her stock at CNN could really be on the rise. She already is in the mix as a possible primetime host, and a cool-under-pressure performance tonight could move her to the top of the list as a possible permanent primetime host.
CNN already is showing a lot of faith in her. The network is taking tons of heat for inviting Trump on its network. Critics are saying that the network simply should not give Trump a megaphone to spread his misinformation, disinformation and lies.
I stand by my original belief that CNN absolutely should have Trump on the air. He’s the former president and, as of this moment, the leading candidate to be the Republican nominee in 2024. But if everyone’s worst fears come true, Collins will take a major percentage of the blame.
What is Trump saying?
Trump took to his Truth Social to post this on Tuesday: “I’ll be doing CNN tomorrow night, LIVE from the Great State of New Hampshire, because they are rightfully desperate to get those fantastic (TRUMP!) ratings once again. They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse!!! Could be the beginning of a New & Vibrant CNN, with no more Fake News, or it could turn into a disaster for all, including me. Let’s see what happens? Wednesday Night at 8:00!!!”
Sounds a bit like a professional wrestling promotion, doesn’t it?
Major Trump news
In a civil trial, a Manhattan jury on Tuesday found Trump liable for sexually abusing magazine writer E. Jean Carroll. Trump also was found liable for defaming Carroll. She has been awarded $5 million.
Again, this was a civil trial, not a criminal trial, meaning Trump faces no jail time. Because of the statute of limitations, Trump cannot be charged criminally.
Carroll first publicly accused Trump in 2019, saying he raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s.
According to NBC News’ Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian, “Asked on their verdict sheet if Carroll, 79, had proven ‘by a preponderance of the evidence’ that ‘Mr. Trump raped Ms. Carroll,’ the nine-person jury checked the box that said ‘no.’ Asked if Carroll had proven ‘by a preponderance of the evidence’ that ‘Mr. Trump sexually abused Ms. Carroll,’ the jury checked the box that said ‘yes.’ Both allegations were elements of Carroll’s battery claim.”
Trump says he will appeal.
You would think that news such as this could significantly alter Trump’s presidential hopes, but, honestly, that seems unlikely. It might not make much of a ripple at all among his supporters.
But it will be interesting to see how this topic is handled in tonight’s town hall.
Carlson’s next move
Fired Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson put out a nearly three-minute video on Twitter on Tuesday that said a bunch of outlandish stuff about the media and the so-called “truth” and a bunch of First Amendment gobbledygook. Here’s the tweet if you care to watch.
But then he got to the news of the video: He is taking “a newer version of his show” to Twitter. Carlson said the show will begin “soon,” but wasn’t specific beyond that. He concluded by saying, “See you soon.”
Puck’s Dylan Byers reported Carlson will forgo at least $25 million owed to him by Fox in order to break his noncompete clause.
Meanwhile, Axios’ Mike Allen and Sara Fischer reported Carlson’s lawyers are accusing Fox of fraud and breach of contract. The letter to Fox was sent just before Carlson announced his new show on Twitter. Axios wrote that the letter “made a host of document demands that could precede legal action.”
Axios also reported that Carlson was told by a Fox board member that he was taken off the air as part of the Dominion settlement.
So, it would appear that there are some legal matters that must be settled before Carlson can launch a show on Twitter.
Fox’s earnings call
Usually quarterly earnings calls for cable news networks are standard and boring stuff. Not Tuesday when Fox News’ top executive Lachlan Murdoch made his first public statements since the network settled a case with Dominion Voting Systems by writing a check for $787.5 million.
Sure, the lawsuit from Dominion spooked Fox News, which is why they agreed to settle. Murdoch admitted all the pretrial rulings against Fox “severely limited our defense at trial.” He said settling was “a decision clearly in the best interest of the company and its shareholders.”
But if you think it’s going to change the way Fox News does things, think again. Murdoch told investors and analysts, “There’s no change to our programming strategy at Fox News. It’s obviously a successful strategy, and as always, we are adjusting our programming and our lineup and that’s what we continue to do.”
The question that everyone hoped would be answered, however, was not answered. Murdoch did say why Fox News fired primetime star Tucker Carlson. Murdoch also used an excuse that the judge in the Dominion case ruled wasn’t a valid defense: “As we’ve stated many times, we always acted as a news organization reporting on the newsworthy events of the day.”
Fox Corp. lost $50 million in the second quarter of this year, something Murdoch claimed was primarily due to the Dominion settlement. The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum wrote, “Fox swung to a net loss of $50 million for the quarter, compared with earnings of $290 million during the same period last year. The loss came despite revenue increasing 18 percent, to $4.08 billion.”
One more item on Fox News. Check out this story from NPR’s David Folkenflik: “Fox isn’t in the apology business. That could cost it a ton of money.”
BuzzFeed ends first quarter with $36.3 million loss
For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.
Amid declining revenue, BuzzFeed ended the first quarter with a $36.3 million net loss, the company announced Tuesday.
In the quarter ending March 31, BuzzFeed saw its revenue decline 27% year-over-year to $67.2 million. Shifts toward short-form and creator-led content, a weak digital advertising market and sales execution challenges have driven the decline, according to chief financial officer Felicia DellaFortuna.
The dismal results came just weeks after BuzzFeed announced it was closing its namesake newsroom and laying off 15% of its staff. The company will instead focus on content made by creators and artificial intelligence, founder and CEO Jonah Peretti said during the earnings call Tuesday.
“Broadly speaking, I believe that generative AI will begin to replace the majority of static content,” Peretti said.
The company is expanding its creator program and prototyping new uses of AI in quizzes and chatbots, he added. BuzzFeed has “significantly” reduced its costs and shifted resources to focus on these areas.
BuzzFeed stock closed at $0.57 a share Tuesday, continuing an overall decline since late January.
Leaving the company
Hadley Gamble — the CNBC anchor and senior correspondent who accused Jeff Shell, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal, of sexual harassment — is leaving the company. In a statement, the network called her a “distinguished journalist” and wished her “every success in her future endeavors.”
In March, Gamble issued a complaint against Shell for sexual harassment. An internal investigation showed evidence that “corroborated the allegations.” Shell was fired. He put out a statement that said, in part, “I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret.”
The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin reported, “CNBC and Ms. Gamble reached an agreement for her to leave the company, according to a person familiar with knowledge of the decision.”
ESPN’s ups and downs
Strange times these days at ESPN. They are in the midst of significant layoffs, which are all a part of major cuts going on at parent company Disney.
At the same time, they are reportedly negotiating with soon-to-be-free agent broadcaster Pat McAfee.
Now comes this news. Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports that ESPN’s studio show for the upcoming NBA Western Conference finals will not be traveling — something it has traditionally done in recent years. Instead, the pregame, halftime and postgame show will be from the New York City studio.
The Western Conference finals will be a matchup of either the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors against either the Phoenix Suns or Denver Nuggets. Ourand wrote, “Sources told me that budget cutting is to blame for ESPN’s decision to keep its shows in studio during the Western Conference Finals, which this year is guaranteed to have bankable stars: either LeBron James or Steph Curry against either Kevin Durant or Nikola Jokic.”
The plan is that the ESPN studio show will travel again for the NBA Finals, which starts on ABC on June 1.
Meanwhile, TNT will air the Eastern Conference finals and is expected to send its studio team on location.
The McAfee news
As I just mentioned, sports media star Pat McAfee could be headed to ESPN full time.
McAfee is a fascinating media story. A former NFL punter, he did some work at ESPN and then eventually left, starting his own YouTube show and podcast and signing a $120 million deal with FanDuel. He also appears on ESPN’s “College GameDay” and works on WWE wrestling broadcasts.
But now he is considering walking away from his deal with FanDuel, and New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports ESPN is the leading candidate to host his daily show. No deal is finalized and no one is commenting.
“However,” Marchand wrote, “besides sources with knowledge of the situation saying ESPN is in the pole position, McAfee recently tweeted out a picture of a meeting he had with Disney CEO Bob Iger. On Monday’s show, McAfee said he was up to something, which he said would be announced in the next 10 days. That timeline just happens to perfectly correspond with Disney Upfronts, which are scheduled for May 16.
The exact amount of money McAfee will earn in a deal is not yet known, though it is expected to be in the eight-figures-per-year range. It may be less than the $30 million-plus a year FanDuel deal he is potentially walking away from.”
If McAfee does go to ESPN, it could be to do more than his daily show and “College GameDay.”
Marchand added, “In meetings, according to sources, ESPN executives have said that it would only do a McAfee deal if it pencils out and it can make money.”
Rick Sadowski, a sportswriter known for his work covering the National Hockey League at the Rocky Mountain News and Los Angeles Times, has died. He was 71. Having been an NHL beat writer myself for many years, I often crossed paths with Rick. He was a superb reporter, but an even better person. He was kind, had a great sense of humor and was always helpful to his fellow reporters. We stayed in touch occasionally through social media over the past few years, and I will miss his observations and jokes.
- Fun behind-the-scenes look at Pulitzer Prize voting from photojournalist Jose R. Lopez.
- Speaking of the Pulitzers, my Poynter colleague Angela Fu with “Among this year’s Pulitzer winners, a father and son from Alabama.”
- Mick Mulvaney, the former Congressman and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, is joining NewsNation as a political and economic contributor. He made his network debut on Tuesday.
My favorite story of the day (including the photos): The New York Times’ Sarah Lyall with “Striker Will Never Know He Wasn’t Best in Show.”
West Virginia University men’s college basketball coach Bob Huggins used a homophobic slur twice during a radio interview. The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga provides a smart perspective in “Bob Huggins showed us what he thinks, and no apology can change that.”
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