Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO, CNN Worldwide speaks onstage during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront 2022 show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2022 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images
Nearly a week after CNN’s May 10 town hall with Donald Trump, CEO Chris Licht has acknowledged internally there are some things he wished the network had done differently.
Licht continues to stand by the concept of the town hall, telling people both inside and outside CNN that history will look kindly on the network’s decision to interview Trump in front of cheering supporters in a live town hall format.
But there are several production elements that he would have liked done in a different way, according to people familiar with his thinking.
Licht said he wished he had introduced the in-person audience to TV watchers so that viewers could better identify who they were, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.
The crowd was a main character in the event as many Trump supporters cheered his responses and jeered CNN host Kaitlan Collins when she challenged him. Licht would have liked to openly question the crowd before the town hall began so the TV audience could better understand who they were and why they were supporting Trump, said the people.
Licht and other CNN executives also pointed to direction elements CNN could have done differently, such as focusing the camera only on Collins when she tried to fight off Trump’s lies about election fraud in 2020, rather than using wide shots on both Trump and Collins. That way, CNN could draw the audience’s focus to the substance of the question rather than the spectacle of Trump. CNN could have also graphically shown each question while Trump spoke, emphasizing his answers didn’t always match the topic at hand.
Licht said he wished that after the town hall he’d had the network anchors focus on the news Trump made, such as his claim that he would settle Russia’s war with Ukraine within 24 hours or his refusal to weigh in on a federal ban on abortion. CNN could have gone live to a reporter in Ukraine, as an example, which would have reminded the audience of the network’s journalistic range.
The post-event panel, co-hosted by CNN anchors including Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper, looked like they had a case of deja vu after the town hall’s conclusion, clearly showing trauma from previous Trump interviews and speeches where he’d peddled election fraud lies and talked over questioners.
A CNN spokesman declined to comment.
Several high-profile CNN employees told CNBC they were embarrassed by the Trump town hall. One person said it was the network’s lowest point since a 2012 incident when the network initially misreported that the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav chose Licht to run CNN last year in an attempt to reimagine the network as a down-the-middle, facts-only cable news network.
Other news networks will likely follow CNN’s lead in booking Trump interviews — especially if he continues to be the front-runner to win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. NBC and its news networks have been in contact with many of the U.S. presidential candidates, including Trump, about scheduling upcoming appearances, according to a person familiar with the matter.
NBC isn’t likely to do a Trump town hall, given how CNN’s went, said the person. An NBC spokesman declined to comment.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
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