CNN CEO acknowledges some issues with Trump town hall: Sources

CNN CEO acknowledges some issues with Trump town hall: Sources

CNN Worldwide Chairman and CEO Chris Licht 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

Almost a week after CNN’s May 10 Town Hall show with Donald Trump, CEO Chris Licht has admitted internally that there are some things he wished the network had done differently.

Licht continues to stand by the concept of City Hall, telling people inside and outside of CNN that history will respond favorably to the network’s decision to interview Trump in front of cheering supporters in City Hall’s live format.

But there are some production elements he would have liked to have done differently, say people familiar with his mindset.

Licht said he wished he had introduced the personal audience to TV viewers so viewers could better discern who they were, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

The crowd was a main feature of the event as many Trump supporters cheered his reactions and taunted CNN host Kaitlan Collins when she challenged him. Licht would have liked to candidly quiz the crowd before the start of the townhall event so television audiences could better understand who they were and why they supported Trump, people said.

Licht and other CNN executives also pointed to directional elements CNN could have done differently, such as only focusing the camera on Collins as she tried to deter Trump’s lies about voter fraud in 2020, rather than full-length shots of both Trump and to do on Collins. That way, CNN could keep the audience’s focus on the heart of the issue, rather than the Trump spectacle. CNN could also have graphed each question during Trump’s speech to emphasize that his answers didn’t always fit the topic at hand.

Licht said he wished the network’s moderators had focused on news from Trump after the town hall meeting, such as his claims that he will end Russia’s war with Ukraine within 24 hours or his refusal to commit to a federal ban on abortion to express . For example, CNN could have gone live to a reporter in Ukraine, reminding viewers of the station’s journalistic breadth.

The panel discussion following the event, co-moderated by CNN presenters including Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper, came across as dour following the conclusion of town hall and clearly demonstrated the trauma of previous Trump interviews and speeches in which he had spread voter fraud lies and talked about questioners .

A CNN spokesman declined to comment.

Several high-profile CNN staffers told CNBC they were embarrassed at Trump City Hall. One person said it was the network’s lowest point since an incident in 2012 when the network initially misreported that the Supreme Court had rejected the Affordable Care Act.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav selected Licht to lead CNN last year to transform the station into a simple, fact-based cable news channel.

Other news outlets are likely to follow CNN’s lead in booking Trump interviews — especially if he remains the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2024. NBC and its news networks have been in contact with many of the US presidential candidates. According to a person familiar with the matter, it was to plan upcoming appearances, including Trump.

“Given how CNN is evolving, NBC probably won’t be hosting a Trump town hall,” the person said. An NBC spokesman declined to comment.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

WATCH: Jury finds Donald Trump sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll