Columnist Gene Lyons: CNN ‘town hall’ was anything but journalism
Time was when people calling themselves journalists were in the business of reporting news, not creating it. However, we no longer have political journalism in this country; instead, we have TV. And what TV is about, almost regardless of what it pretends to be about, is celebrity.
Oh, and money. Ratings, celebrity and money.
As quoted by Michael Tomasky in The New Republic, CNN chief executive Chris Licht professed the highest motives when he took over the network: “I think we can be a beacon in regaining that trust by being an organization that exemplifies the best characteristics in journalism: fearlessly speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo, questioning ‘groupthink’ and educating viewers and readers with straightforward facts and insightful commentary ... First and foremost, we should, and we will be advocates for truth.”
Instead, he gave us The Donald Trump Show, staged as a “town hall” in an ersatz New Hampshire village populated by credulous zombies. Not journalism at all, but a pseudo-event bearing the same relationship to political reality that professional wrestling bears to real sports. A Trump campaign event, paid for by a self-styled news network. Basically, a campaign donation from CNN.
This placed moderator Kaitlan Collins in the unenviable role of WWE referee, charged with correcting Trump’s voluminous lies with little hope of even slowing him down. The man lied about everything while the MAGAs yukked it up and cheered him on. He lied about the 2020 election. He lied about the Jan. 6 insurrection and his role in it. He lied about the abortion issue. He lied about classified documents that he left lying around at Mar-a-Lago while he lied to the government about hoarding them. He lied about his efforts to pressure Georgia officials to reverse his electoral loss in that state.
Asked about his infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump brazenly claimed, “I didn’t ask to find anything. I said, ‘You owe me votes.’”
Why Collins didn’t then confront him with an audio recording of the call, in which he suggested that Georgia election authorities should disqualify thousands of supposedly fraudulent ballots, I can’t imagine.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump told Raffensperger, one more than he would have needed to claim the state’s electoral votes. In reality, Georgia recertified its presidential votes three times with the same result.
The GOP nominee lost every time.
I also can’t imagine why Collins didn’t just haul off and slap the big blowhard across the face when he called her a “nasty” woman. Him, a dirty old man in elevator shoes, a corset and more makeup than Dolly Parton.
It would have made great TV.
But the woman Trump really defamed — all over again — during his 70 minutes of bizarre ranting was E. Jean Carroll. This was a bit more than 24 hours after a federal jury found that Trump had sexually assaulted her in a New York department store and was liable for $5 million in damages for repeatedly calling her a fantasist and a liar.
He repeated the same claim that the jury had rejected: that Carroll was a total stranger and a “whack job” who conspired with friends to make up a phony story for money. He added that the total stranger owned a cat named “Vagina.”
And if you believe that, well, you’d probably vote for the crazy scoundrel all over again.
Yes, I wrote “crazy.” His niece Mary Trump is far from being the only qualified mental health professional who has diagnosed the former president as a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Most shrinks prefer not to get involved because of professional taboos — well-founded, for the most part — against diagnosing people they haven’t examined personally.
By now, however, we’ve all seen quite enough of Trump to draw some conclusions, particularly in highly revealing contexts like the CNN town hall. More, in fact, than many therapists see of clients they have no hesitancy about diagnosing. Simply put, Donald Trump is a classic case of a criminal psychopath.
According to what’s known as the DSM-5 (the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition”), narcissists display “arrogant, haughty behaviors,” “a sense of entitlement” and a “grandiose sense of self-importance.” Markedly “lacking empathy” for others, they believe that they are special and unique, require “excessive admiration,” and are characteristically “interpersonally exploitative (taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends).”
Lying, cheating and stealing come as second nature to such persons, many of whom end up in penitentiaries.
Unless, that is, they inherit hundreds of millions of dollars from Daddy, and with that fortune, legal immunity. The average “thug,” to use one of Trump’s favorite words, would still be in prison for what he did to E. Jean Carroll.
Instead, we make him a “star.”
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected].