Updated May 11, 2023 - Economy

CNN's Trump town hall draws 3.3 million viewers


CNN's controversial town hall with former President Donald Trump drew 3.3 million viewers Wednesday night, making CNN the most-watched cable news network of the evening, according to final ratings from Nielsen.

Why it matters: The event delivered a much-needed ratings boost for CNN, though at a cost. The network faced blowback from critics and employees who argued it gave the former president a platform to lie in real-time.

  • The moderator, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, fact-checked Trump repeatedly on many issues, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from making several inaccurate claims that went without rebuttal.
  • During the town hall, Trump repeatedly pushed unproven conspiracies about the 2020 election being "rigged" and made misleading comments about finishing the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Yes, but: The town hall still made lots of news, as Axios' Alex Thompson and Sophia Cai noted.

  • Trump promised to pardon “a large portion” of his supporters who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, inserted himself into negotiations over the debt ceiling and refused to answer if he’d sign a national abortion ban.

What they're saying: On an editorial call with CNN employees Thursday morning, network CEO Chris Licht defended the network's decision to host the event.

  • "It is our job to get those answers and hold him accountable,' he said while acknowledging that covering Trump is "messy and tricky."
  • "America was served by what we did last night," he added.
  • Internally, some of CNN's staff disagreed. One member of CNN's newsroom said the event was "a disaster." Another said it was a "s*** show."

By the numbers: CNN's town hall reached more than 780,000 people in the critical 25 to 45-year-old advertising demo.

  • That's more than four times the average number reached in the demo during its typical 8pm program hosted by Anderson Cooper.
  • The town hall also gave CNN a significant boost in the 9pm through 11pm hours that followed the event.

The big picture: The program was CNN's second most-viewed single-candidate town hall since 2016, following a town hall with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2020, which drew 3.4 million viewers.

  • However, both events drew fewer viewers than several Trump town halls that aired on Fox News in 2016 and 2020.
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