Guest Editorials, Opinion

CNN’s town hall cannot give Trump unquestioned network airtime

Count us as enthusiastic celebrants of World Press Freedom Day, marked last week. Across the world, too many journalists are punished, imprisoned and even killed for daring to shine a light on the powerful. As another newspaper says, democracy dies in darkness; the flip side of that credo is that it can only thrive when the lights are on and the windows are open. 

But, to adapt the words once said to a fictional photographer for an imaginary New York newspaper, with freedom comes responsibility. The press can say what it wishes, but it should understand the implications of the choices it makes. 

That brings us to CNN’s Wednesday New Hampshire Donald Trump town hall. It’s reasonable that the network would want the leading Republican candidate for president and a former commander-in-chief who holds a commanding 36-point lead in primary polling (are Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson getting prime-time also?). But it’s imperative that those who control the floor ensure that Trump is asked tough questions and challenge him when he lies and distorts about the 2020 election results or anything else. 

When then-candidate Trump ran for president in 2015 and 2016, the press couldn’t look away. He said we should build a wall and make Mexico pay, ban Muslims from traveling to America and other things that both appalled responsible Americans and fueled his political rise. 

We don’t for a minute suggest those utterances weren’t newsworthy or should’ve led to a press blackout. Political journalists should convey what competitive candidates are saying, good, bad or indifferent — that’s called educating the public — even when the speaker is aiming his vitriol at those very journalists. What wasn’t necessary or wise was for networks, most notably CNN, to gift Trump hour after hour of free, unfiltered airtime, as they did during rally after rally. (A November 2015 Trump “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig was also, to say the least, ill-advised.)  

Kaitlan Collins will moderate. The burden is on her to ensure that the event is good journalism, not just for ratings. 

This editorial first appeared in the New York Daily News. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.