After a controversial and widely criticized CNN town hall with former President Donald Trump, right-wing media came out of the woodwork to uplift his many misogynistic comments about E. Jean Carroll and CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins as well as his anti-abortion rhetoric.
On May 10, CNN held a “Republican presidential town hall” with Trump in front of a crowd of GOP and undeclared voters in New Hampshire and moderated by Collins, a CNN anchor and correspondent. Ahead of the town hall, some outlets reported that CNN is positioning Collins, who currently co-anchors This Morning, to be a rising star at the network, potentially giving her a prime-time slot. Though many in media criticized the idea of the town hall, saying it gives Trump a national platform to spread misinformation, CNN was not deterred, even promoting the town hall during the network’s live May 9 coverage of a federal jury’s finding that Trump was liable for the sexual abuse and defamation of writer E. Jean Carroll.
As the town hall went on, with Collins ultimately unable to keep up with the pace of Trump’s rapid misinformation and interruptions, right-wing media reacted joyfully to the former president dismissing Carroll’s allegations against him, whitewashing his infamously lewd Access Hollywood tape, and degrading Collins. Similarly, when Trump refused to give a clear response to Collins regarding anti-abortion policy he aims to instill if re-elected, conservative media figures cheered on Trump and echoed his anti-choice misinformation.
Here’s how right-wing media gleefully responded to Trump’s sexism and vitriolic rhetoric on sexual assault and abortion:
Cheering on Trump for undermining the sexual assault trial
When Collins asked Trump to respond to voters who say Carroll’s case disqualifies him from being president, Trump boasted about his increased poll numbers, rejected Carroll’s accusations, and suggested that the trial was “election interference.” Trump also later referred to Carroll as a “whack job” and tried to dismiss Carroll’s testimony by insisting she played a role in her sexual assault.
In response, conservative media figures criticized Collins for asking about the trial or suggested Carroll was lying:
- Former Townhall writer and current GOP consultant Alex Bruesewitz tweeted on May 10, “CNN hack asked New Hampshire voter about how she felt when Trump was talking about whacky E. Jean Carroll. She said ‘I don’t really care… Women can also make up stories. We see it all the time.’ BOOM! So true! Voters know this is just another BS witch hunt!”
- A Townhall.com piece titled “Trump Probably Gave Liberals Ulcers During CNN's Town Hall Last Night” said of the Carroll verdict that “even anti-Trump conservatives knew it was hot garbage.” The piece also claimed that Trump’s answers about the case would “surely trigger liberal America.”
- On the May 10 episode of Fox News’ Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham praised Trump’s ability to “hammer [CNN] on issue after issue” after “moderator Kaitlan Collins and the C-suite gang at CNN” tried to “trap” Trump with questions about Carroll.
Dismissing Trump’s Access Hollywood tape
Collins also asked Trump about his obscene comments in the 2016 leaked Access Hollywood audio that was included as evidence in Carroll’s case. In the leaked tape originally recorded in 2005, Trump claimed, “When you’re a star… you can do anything,” including “grab them [women] by the pussy.” Trump defended his remarks during the town hall, claiming that “I didn't say you grab — I said women let” and suggested he wasn’t referring to himself as a “star.” He also went on to say, “I can't take it back because it happens to be true. “
Conservative media figures criticized Collins for bringing up the Access Hollywood tape, asserting that the line of questioning was “outdated and leading”:
- Convicted January 6 insurrectionist and Rumble streamer Alex Sheppard tweeted on May 10, “THIS IS UNWATCHABLE 🚨CNN’s Kaitlan Collins wants to talk about President Trump’s ‘rape’ case with a woman he’s never met. She brings up the Access Hollywood tapes that are still widely misreported by Fake News like CNN. If voters cared about this, he would have lost in 2016!”
- In a May 10 article about the town hall, Breitbart accused Collins of “asking arguably outdated and leading questions, asking Trump if he regretted the remarks he made via the Access Hollywood tape.” Breitbart then said that Trump’s answer that “famous individuals have advantages … still rings true.”
- Breitbart staffer Kristina Wong tweeted, “CNN to Trump: Why do you keep talking about 2020? Also CNN: Do you stand by comments you made in 2005 in an Access Hollywood tape?”
Praising Trump for framing abortion advocates as “radical”
When an audience member asked Trump about abortion, he responded with multiple false and bad-faith comments about “radical” abortion advocates promoting infanticide, repeating claims he made in 2016 about Democrats wanting to “rip the baby out of the womb at nine months” and to “execute the baby.”
Though Trump repeatedly bragged about his Supreme Court nominations setting the stage for Roe v. Wade’s 2022 reversal, the former president deflected when Collins tried to press him on whether he would sign a federal ban on abortion, simply stating, “President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what's fair for the country.”
In response, right-wing media figures defended Trump’s vague answers on an abortion ban and praised his characterization of Democrats as radical on reproductive health:
- Breitbart senior editor Joel Pollak tweeted, “Actually I thought he answered the abortion part very well — he wants a deal between both sides and is open to what that deal will be. But he missed an opportunity to show empathy with women in general rather than just the pro-life side.”
- National Review writer Dan McLaughlin praised Trump for “pivoting to discuss how radical the Democrats are on abortion. Which is a good answer.”
- Anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson tweeted a quote from Trump at the town hall: “‘People who would kill a baby in the 9th month, 8th month, or 7 month.. they’re the radicals, not the pro-lifers.’ - President Trump.”
Parroting Trump's attacks on Collins
As Collins attempted to ask Trump about the handling of classified documents found in his Florida residence, he became visibly agitated and snapped at her, “ It's very simple -- you are a nasty person, I'll tell you.” Earlier in the town hall he said that while Collins was not “stupid,” she had perhaps been “given an agenda.” Trump also talked over Collins at numerous times during the program.
Right-wing media responded by comparing Collins to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest villain Nurse Ratched and posting a photo of her in a bathing suit:
- In a May 11 op-ed for Breitbart, John Nolte showered praised on Trump for exposing “‘moderator’ Kaitlin ‘Nurse Ratched’ Collins* for the mental lightweight she is,” saying he “charmed anyone watching who is not a humorless prig missing their ‘joy’ gene.” Nolte also wrote that Collins “flew into that town hall on her broom … and proceeded to lay the biggest egg since Climate Change wiped out the dinosaurs.”
- Disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly tweeted that Collins was “getting a bit chippy with President Trump.”
- Conspiracy theorist Chuck Callesto commented, “Watching Kaitlan Collins speak was one of the MOST PAINFUL experiences I have ever endured.. I'm assuming she walks her husband on a leash..”
- Substack author @Amuse tweeted a picture of Collins in a bikini and asked if she should be “fired.”
Over the past year, CNN’s leadership has supposedly been pushing the network toward more “straight news reporting”, while the network has adopted a right-wing lens on issues like immigration and unions. CNN’s history with Trump has also been problematic in the past, with the network airing hours of uninterrupted footage of his campaign rallies in previous election cycles. Although former CNN president Jeff Zucker admitted that it was a “mistake” to broadcast the rallies, the network recently aired almost the entirety of Trump’s live Mar-a-Lago speech where he, among other things, peddled conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen.
Just as the mainstream media treated the 2016 presidential election as political reality TV, CNN’s latest town hall shows that mainstream outlets still have much to learn about ensuring responsible coverage as the 2024 election cycle kicks off. Prior to the town hall’s recording, CNN CEO Chris Licht even told Trump to have “a good conversation and have fun.” Any good faith CNN may have gotten in hosting the town hall quickly turned sour in its airing of “70 minutes of Trump doing his schtick to a rapturous audience — and getting to dunk on a CNN host while he was at it.” In the year ahead of the 2024 election, mainstream outlets must use their election coverage to prioritize helping voters make informed decisions at the polls and not providing circus coverage.