Trump looks to rebuild media relationships, starting with CNN

Trump looks to rebuild media relationships, starting with CNN

When former President Trump attends a CNN town hall event in New Hampshire next week, it will be his first time sitting down with a major network other than Fox News since he dramatically stormed off the set of a “60 Minutes” interview in late October 2020.

But, according to Trump aides, it likely won’t be the last time.

Trump’s first CNN appearance in years comes as the former president and his team are hoping to rebuild his relationships with mainstream outlets after demonizing them for years.

While Trump still has a complicated relationship with Fox News, one of the biggest brands in television, the agreement to do a town hall event with CNN is a significant moment that offers potential rewards to both parties.

For CNN, it could provide big ratings, even though it also comes with the risk of being accused of giving too much attention to Trump. CNN and MSNBC both came under criticism for the coverage they provided to Trump during his rise in the 2016 GOP primary fight.

For Trump, getting on CNN gives him what he craves most: attention and the ability to control a news cycle. In the aftermath of his false claims that fraud led to his 2020 defeat — and the violence of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — it also could hand him some mainstream respect and legitimacy.

Trump’s team thinks it can improve its chances by getting him on networks across the media landscape.

“Going outside the traditional Republican ‘comfort zone’ was a key to President Trump’s success in 2016,” a Trump adviser told The Hill. “Some other candidates are too afraid to take this step in their quest to defeat Joe Biden, and are afraid to do anything other than Fox News.”

That’s a clear reference to the man widely seen as Trump’s main rival for the 2024 GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has largely stiff-armed the nation’s leading media outlets. DeSantis has yet to enter the 2024 race.

The Trump adviser indicated the former president planned to do similar events to the CNN town hall with other networks moving forward.

The effort to branch out comes as Trump sits atop national GOP primary polls roughly nine months out from the Iowa caucuses. A CBS News poll released Monday found 58 percent of GOP voters said they planned on backing Trump, with DeSantis next at 22 percent.

DeSantis has stuck to interviews with friendlier media like local conservative publications in Florida and the occasional appearance on Fox.

Like Trump, DeSantis has made a frequent foil of the media and CNN specifically as he works to raise his national profile ahead of an expected run for the Republican nomination for president.

After a storm ravaged Florida’s Gulf Coast in October of last year, the governor forcefully chided a CNN reporter who asked him if local officials waited too long to issue an evacuation order.

The incident was widely circulated on social media by conservatives praising his attack of what he has often referred to as “the corporate press.”

Trump has largely been confined to conservative media echo chambers for the past two years as he continues to espouse his debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen. He has appeared on OAN and Newsmax, and he has sat for interviews with Fox News pundits like Sean Hannity and then-host Tucker Carlson.

Trump has sat for multiple interviews with reporters writing books about him since he left office, but next week’s town hall will be the first time Trump has appeared outside of that stable of networks since October 2020, when he did the “60 Minutes” interview for CBS and sat for a town hall event with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie following the cancelation of a presidential debate over COVID-19 concerns after Trump contracted the virus.

Trump will attend the CNN town hall May 10 in New Hampshire, where he will take questions from voters in the first GOP primary state. The event will be moderated by journalist Kaitlan Collins, who rose to prominence as a correspondent at the Trump White House and now hosts CNN’s morning show.

CNN and Trump’s camp were in talks for several weeks over the town hall, and the network made a “compelling pitch,” the Trump adviser said.

The agreement came as a surprise given Trump, who routinely describes the press as the “enemy of the people,” has been particularly vitriolic toward CNN.

His administration sought to revoke then-CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s hard pass to get into the complex in 2018. Trump’s then-press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred to Collins as an “activist” in 2020, and Trump himself regularly attacked the network on social media. Trump is also suing the network for defamation.

CNN, like most mainstream news companies, experienced a major boom in ratings and visibility during Trump’s 2016 campaign and during his four years in office. But during recent years, and in the absence of Trump, viewership has dropped across cable networks, with CNN experiencing some of the sharpest declines.

The agreement with Trump’s team also comes as CNN’s leadership under parent company WarnerBros. Discovery looks to rehabilitate its brand with conservative thought leaders and viewers.

“We have fact checkers ready to go. We will put things in perspective. We will not let everything he does consume the news cycle, right?” CNN President Chris Licht, who will mark one year this month as the network’s top executive, said during an interview late last year. “There are other things that are important.”

A report surfaced Monday that the agreement to have Trump sit for a town hall with CNN was part of a larger effort to get more campaign surrogates on the network’s air. CNN has publicly denied that report.

Still, the network is taking some criticism for providing Trump a prime-time platform.

“Did anyone really believe that CNN and Donald Trump were through with each other,” said Lisa Napoli, an author and journalist who wrote a book about Ted Turner and CNN’s origins. “Like it or not, Trump’s a declared candidate. A legitimate news outlet has to cover him. That said, that he’s being given the platform of a town hall forum this early on in the race gives us a taste of the nightmarish months to come.”

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