Chris Licht of CNN Defends Decision to Host Trump Town Hall

Ms. Collins interrupted and corrected Mr. Trump again and again, calling out his lies about a rigged 2020 election and his depiction of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as “a beautiful day.” Mr. Trump, however, often talked right over her. The live audience, a group of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters, often cheered him on, even when he derided Ms. Collins as a “nasty person.”

“While we all may have been uncomfortable hearing people clapping, that was also an important part of the story,” Mr. Licht said on Thursday, “because the people in that audience represent a large swath of America. And the mistake the media made in the past is ignoring that those people exist. Just like you cannot ignore that President Trump exists.”

Critics said it was reckless for the network to provide a live forum to Mr. Trump, given his track record of spreading disinformation. Even the network’s own commentators appeared taken aback by what had transpired on its airwaves. “We don’t have enough time to fact check every lie he told,” Jake Tapper told viewers on Wednesday night. The town hall was watched by 3.1 million people, according to early returns from Nielsen, a significant increase from CNN’s typical audience on an average weeknight at 8 p.m. But the Trump town hall fell short of the average viewership for Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program, which was seen by an average of 3.2 million people in the first three months of the year.

Mr. Licht, who took over CNN last year after the network was acquired by Warner Bros. Discovery, has had a rocky tenure, and some journalists there have bristled at his public comments that the network had veered too far into an anti-Trump stance when Mr. Trump was in the White House. Mr. Licht has said CNN must appeal to more centrists and conservative voters, a strategy that has support from his corporate superiors.

There were signs on Thursday that frustration inside CNN about the town hall was bubbling up. The network’s own media newsletter, “Reliable Sources,” published a tough assessment after the event, noting, “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.”

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