The following is an opinion piece by PoliticusUSA’s Editor in Chief, Sarah Jones.
“Real America” would like a word.
CNN has been roundly criticized for their grossly irresponsible choice to air a Trump town hall stacked with an audience of Republican voters who fed off of one another in a grotesque display of collective ugliness.
Anderson Cooper was sent on the air to lecture Americans that we objected to the disaster in which Trump was allowed to re-victimize E. Jean Carroll with further defamation as well calling a Black officer a “thug” and repeating dangerous, deadly lies about 1/6 and the 2020 election because we want to live in a silo.
Cooper said, “You have every right to be outraged and angry, never watch this network again. But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away? If we all only listen to those we agree with, it may actually do the opposite.”
As someone who lives in a Trump 57-68 district, I’ve done in depth articles about real Trump voters and the takeaway is the opposite of what CNN is claiming.
The real problem with America right now is that Trump supporters are not exposed to “real news.” This town hall only reinforced and fed this problem by giving Trump a megaphone for his lies.
Additionally, most of us are actually not insulated from Trump voters.
It’s so odd hearing such a claim from someone in Cooper’s position, because unlike most of the media, most Americans do not live in elite areas of big cities. We are not insulated.
Also, Cooper was a bad optics choice to deliver this patronizing message, because:
What I find astounding is a New York media person who was born, grew up, and lives in NYC, who is a relative of the extremely wealthy Vanderbilts, who went to expensive private schools and now tells the rest of us to “get out of our silos”.
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) May 12, 2023
We at this website are probably some of the most exposed to real life Trumpism national political analysts in the country. We are headquartered in a small town in western Pennsylvania on the tail end of the Appalachians, which went for Trump 57.1% in 2020 and 65.89% for Trump in 2016.
This distinction is vitally important on this topic, not only because it disputes the premise that objections are based on not wanting to hear what Trump supporters and Trump himself think, but because living with people in a small town humanizes people with whom you disagree. We interact daily with people who voted for Trump twice.
Sometimes it’s really hard (like when a medical technician giving me an MRI bemoaning our lack of gun laws the day of a a mass shooting blamed Black Lives Matter for lawmakers not passing better gun laws, a moment that still feels like a dagger in my heart), and sometimes it even gets a little scary.
In the last midterms, many of the non-Trump people in this town told me they were afraid to put up political signs after previous signs were stolen or destroyed. People took bumper stickers off their cars to keep their vehicles from being vandalized.
An atmosphere of intimidation still hangs over voting areas since 2016, when truck loads of Trump supporters harassed women and people of color until some of them decided not to vote.
But no matter where people live, it’s disingenuous to claim we need to let Donald Trump spew lies and defamation in order to “learn” about Trump voters and Trump.
We already know all about both.
What I’ve learned from in person conversations over the years is that as individuals, many of these folks are good people who care about others in their community. The hate is only made possible by the propaganda they are fed via media outlets — and during this town hall! — and the fact that they do not interact with many the groups of people they demonize.
The danger comes when they operate as a group, which happens when they hear Donald Trump’s siren call platformed like a rally as CNN did, which worked so well for Trump that a giddy source close to his campaign reportedly thanked CNN for the campaign contribution.
I spoke with hardcore Trump supporters after 1/6, and many were stunned and horrified. They didn’t have an excuse for it. It was only after Republicans used the media to whitewash 1/6 that they all got glassy-eyed and distant about it. Now they blame antifa and say the election was stolen, even though those two claims don’t work together.
That turn away from facts is directly related to the media they consume. They are the insulated people. CNN and other outlets should be asking: How can we expose these folks to facts, rather than: How can we appeal to these folks.
As a group, when emboldened by their cult leader, these people can become dangerous.
CNN should come to Trump towns to talk to non-Trump voters, who have been threatened and harassed into silence. Although to be fair, most of the time when someone whispers to me that they are too afraid to do x politically here, when I ask them if I can write about their experience, they take it all back. That’s a sign of intimidation working effectively to silence people.
The people who know what it’s like to live among a majority of people separated from facts in this dangerously divided country are not talking about it and the media isn’t interested, even if they were.
Americans don’t need to be talked down to by people who are actually insulated themselves.
The CNN town hall emboldened Trump’s undemocratic impulses. Trump is gasoline, and they know it.
CNN’s town hall did the opposite of what they are claiming in that it showed Trump supporters at their collective low level. That display was grotesque and will only further the divide in this country.
That spectacle is not something many Trump supporters in daily life will want to be associated with, but they definitely be secretly emboldened by seeing it.
Many defenders have said that Trump is impossible to interview and there is no way to factcheck a Gish galloper like him. But actually, this is not true. Yes, he is difficult.
But we all know what lies Trump is going to spew ahead of time. They’re his Oldies and they’re conveniently available on his Truth Social account. The moderator prepares in advance and calls the subject on each topic. This is possible when the network wants it to be possible.
It does not appear that factchecking Trump was the goal during this town hall, though, especially since Trump said he was offered a deal he couldn’t refuse and new reporting reveals that Trump got to handpick a friendly moderator. Team Trump said they would have rejected Jack Tapper, which means CNN knows exactly what it could have done to present a better town hall: Use Jack Tapper. Or Dana Bash. Or Jim Acosta.
News organizations will need to rise to the occasion of how to cover Trump responsibly leading in to the 2024 election, given their belief that people need to see more of Trump to know who he is (?) after he incited a deadly coup against his own country in an attempt to stay in power.
Studies show that the way to deal with conspiracies so that repeating them does not validate them is to start off with the truth, then the conspiracy, and end again by reinforcing the truth. That method should be applied to any responsible Trump coverage.
You’ve got a Gish galloper? You’ve also got chyrons, an entire news room of brilliant researchers and journalists, ear pieces, a buzzer, music, a pre-taped factcheck — the world is CNN’s oyster. They have the resources to make an attempt at responsible coverage.
The problem is that they can’t appeal to a Trump audience while doing that. So the decision to appeal to a Trump audience is where the rubber met the road, and that is not the fault of the viewers who were disgusted.
Trump supporters are already fed a steady diet of outrage and hate that has led to their dehumanization of everyone else. Too many Trump supporters believe that all liberals are far left “woke” “antifa” radicals who deserve to be harmed.
So who here needs to get out of their “silo”?
Trump supporters are a force that move together in waves, each hit of Trump they get drives them higher and further from reality. People living in towns and cities across this country know that to be true; they live with the targeting and harassment that come from the toxic stream of right wing lies.
The CNN town hall made all of that worse. It fed Trump supporters their Trump drug unvarnished, it rekindled what had been slowly suffocating flames of violent rage.
It also showed the Trump supporters many of us live among — the casual cruelty, the pleasure taking in harming others — but while making a display of the vulgarities of MAGA Republican voters, CNN fed them exactly what got them there.
I didn’t object to the town hall because I don’t like what I see. I already knew what I would see, as did most of the country. There are no new depths of collective hate that need to be plunged on national TV.
We would all be served if national TV did a little bit of what we have to do in small towns, a big part of which is knowing your neighbor with the Trump signs who says all liberals are scum who should be shot is sometimes also the same person who will bring in your trash cans on a windy day. Some of the media needs to stop using alarming divisions created by the cult-like echo chamber of right wing media to make bank while holding themselves above everyone suffering from the results of the media’s poor decisions.
The real danger we face is not everyone else looking away from Trump supporters; but rather, Trump supporters being allowed to silo themselves off from everyone else on matters of fact and the resulting perilous dehumanization of everyone they are conditioned to hate, while media elites who never get out into “real America” lecture those of us who live here about things they do not understand.
Welcome to “Real America,” CNN. Your town hall further damaged the weakened fabrics of our communities and our democracy, and we have every right to demand better.
Listen to Sarah on the PoliticusUSA Pod on The Daily newsletter podcast here.
Sarah has been credentialed to cover President Barack Obama, then VP Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and exclusively interviewed Speaker Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively covered her first home appearance after the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump.
Sarah is two-time Telly award winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.