CNN Town Hall: Jake Tapper and Jeff Zucker Respond to Critics | THR News

On Feb. 22, at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center outside Washington, D.C., Fox News anchor Sean Hannity told the crowd that CNN had “scripted” a question for a Parkland, Florida, student to ask at a Feb. 21 town hall on gun violence. Hannity was hosting his Fox News show live at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference. An hour before Hannity, fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson had interviewed the student who originally made the accusation, and President Trump used Twitter to add fuel to the fire of what many from the right wing were saying — that CNN, rather than providing an open forum for expression, had effectively rigged the debate. The claim was subsequently debunked — with CNN releasing emails among the student, his father and a network producer as proof — but that didn’t faze some in the pro-Trump crowd. In fact, the Florida event has been used as an example of how CNN has morphed into a partisan player. “CNN has decided to take this path where they are kind of left-wing advocates,” says Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and organizer of CPAC. It’s a characterization that CNN president Jeff Zucker finds insulting. “The fact is we were there, we presented both sides,” Zucker tells The Hollywood Reporter. “People who want to criticize are looking to just criticize before they even think about it.” He points out that Sen. Marco Rubio could have been joined by Trump or Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but both declined CNN’s invitation. From a ratings perspective, Zucker’s town hall was a big hit, winning its time slot with 2.9 million viewers. “I think it was a really important milestone in this conversation because for one of the few times, people who have different points of view were together,” says Zucker. “…Nothing will ever change if we don’t start talking to one another.” The ambitious and timely CNN event was conceived as an opportunity for students and parents to share their grief rather than as a Crossfire-style debate on gun policy yet was still subjected to heightened scrutiny and cries of advocacy journalism. “People even view grief through a partisan lens,” says Jake Tapper, who moderated the town hall. Tapper accepts “legitimate” critiques and rejects complaints that, he says, emanate from the “cottage industry of people who criticize CNN no matter what we do.” Perhaps not helping CNN’s image, the town hall also sparked renewed activism among liberals pushing for gun control, especially in Hollywood. ‘Parks and Recreation’ creator Michael Schur and showrunner Shonda Rhimes joined the chorus of anti-NRA sentiment on Twitter, and NBC’s ‘Blacklist’ star Megan Boone declared that her character no longer will carry assault weapons. That activism — and CNN’s perceived role in it — now ends up fueling the conservative media position that these events are simply sensationalism for ratings. A day after her town hall appearance, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch targeted CNN’s focus on gun massacres, telling the CPAC crowd that “many in legacy media love mass shootings” clarifying that they love “the ratings.” Reflecting on the backlash at the end of a long week, Tapper tells THR he’s more concerned about the families of the victims of the shooting than he is about those who claim to be outraged by CNN’s programming decisions. “However offended anybody was at the passion in the town hall, and however upset they were at mean words that were said to Sen. Rubio or Dana Loesch, they’ll get over it,” he says. “And the people in that stadium, they won’t.” To read more on this story, head to For The Hollywood Reporter News, I’m Lyndsey Rodrigues.

Maurice Vega

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