CNN Chairman Defends Decision to Host Trump Town Hall

“People woke up, and they know what the stakes are in this election in a way that they didn’t the day before,” Chris Licht said in a morning call at the network.

Chris Licht, chairman of CNN, defended the network’s town hall that featured former President Donald J. Trump promoting falsehoods.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Michael M. Grynbaum
Benjamin Mullin

By Michael M. Grynbaum and Benjamin Mullin

May 11, 2023

The chairman of CNN, Chris Licht, issued a robust defense on Thursday of his decision to broadcast a live town hall with former President Donald J. Trump, an unruly and at times bewildering event that has prompted criticism inside and outside of the network.

On a network-wide editorial call, Mr. Licht congratulated the moderator, Kaitlan Collins, on “a masterful performance” before acknowledging the public backlash. “We all know covering Donald Trump is messy and tricky, and it will continue to be messy and tricky, but it’s our job,” Mr. Licht said, according to a recording of the call obtained by The New York Times.

“I absolutely, unequivocally believe America was served very well by what we did last night,” Mr. Licht added. “People woke up, and they know what the stakes are in this election in a way that they didn’t the day before. And if someone was going to ask tough questions and have that messy conversation, it damn well should be on CNN.”

The town hall, which aired in prime-time on Wednesday, featured Mr. Trump deploying a fusillade of falsehoods, sometimes too quickly for the moderator to intercept. It was a preview of what American journalism can expect from a 2024 campaign with the former president, who despite his ubiquity in political life has rarely appeared on mainstream TV outside of Fox News since leaving office.

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