CNN’s town hall discussion with former President Donald Trump on Wednesday night appeared to be a win-win. Many praised the former president’s performance while the network enjoyed some of its best primetime ratings in weeks, besting both Fox News and MSNBC in raw numbers and in the key 25-54 age-range demographic.
According to Mediaite, which cited Nielsen Fast National data, CNN drew a whopping 3.12 million total viewers during the event, which began at 8 p.m. Perhaps more importantly, 703,000 of those viewers were between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic that most television networks and programs generally target. For context, in the last several weeks, CNN’s primetime slot has averaged a paltry 500,000 viewers, even after Fox News parted ways with Tucker Carlson, whose former show also began at 8 p.m.
CNN’s town hall numbers also crushed those of its cable news competitors, Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News barely beat out MSNBC in total viewers, 1.412 million to 1.372 million, but lost to MSNBC in the key demographic, 125,000 to 155,000. For years, Fox News primetime often doubled or even tripled the viewership of CNN and MSNBC, but its viewership has tanked since Carlson’s abrupt departure.
And, as impressive as those initial ratings are, they may not actually tell the whole story. Both CNN.com and its apps streamed the town hall, and the initial data did not include those who tuned in via streaming. Later data should provide a more precise viewership picture.
Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters hailed his performance, and even some of his harshest critics recognized that he had a strong showing. Notably, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted that “CNN should be ashamed of themselves” for giving Trump a “platform,” while former ESPN and MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann, now known for ranting like a madman in social media videos, railed, “CNN gave its credibility to Trump’s madness It must fire CEO Chris Licht: its owners must sell the brand they destroyed.”
As much as people have praised Trump’s showing, many have also panned the performance of CNN morning host Kaitlan Collins, who hosted the town hall but who repeatedly interrupted the former president with thinly veiled hostility. At one point, Trump lost his patience with her combative line of questioning and called her “a nasty person.”
Mollie Hemingway, senior editor of the Federalist, wrote a scathing rebuke of many in the media who attempted to put a positive spin on Collins’ off-putting approach. “The only thing funnier than the Town Hall last night is the scores of media propagandists rushing to say — all NATIONALLY TELEVISED evidence to the contrary! — that Kaitlan Collins did well. I still don’t quite get why it’s important for them to lie about what we all saw,” she tweeted.
Before CNN fans get too excited, as Mediaite noted, “3 million viewers is what Fox News used to draw on a regular night.” Still, CNN seemed to have struck ratings gold with the Trump event held at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, an important state in primary voting. And as the event was billed as a Republican presidential town hall, it is possible that CNN might invite other GOP candidates for similar events in the lead up to the primaries — which start in less than a year.
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