On Friday, CNN’s New Day mercilessly attacked President Trump’s town hall performance while praising Joe Biden. A discerning viewer would be hard pressed to find a nice thing that was said about Trump, while Biden was heaped with praise and even the one criticism was excused. Co-host John Berman showcased this blatantly partisan dichotomy: “…I think [Joe Biden] gave more of an answer last night, which is, it depends on what we see out of the Republicans in the Senate.…President Trump gave the same kind of mealy mouthed answer about the peaceful transfer of power.”
Granted, the two statements references were about different subjects, but both have potential drastic impact on the future of the country. Why is CNN demanding solid answers from Donald Trump, but not Joe Biden?
From the start, the coverage of the President was tainted: “… [W]hen a President of the United States praises a group that the FBI says can motivate domestic terror, when a President of the United States throws shade on masks, which all kinds of people say could save 100,000 lives by February, it’s hard to step back and take a bigger view than that. It’s hard to say there are other headlines.”
In comparison, the show’s guests were quick to celebrate Biden. CNN’s national political reporter Maeve Reston gushed: “… it showed that he was trying to be thoughtful and connect with the questioner and I think that, you know, some people tuning into that, particularly independents who have been turned off by Trump’s style.”
To make it clear that they were rooting for the Democratic nominee, co-host Alisyn Camerota opined: “…[I] think that Joe Biden’s style, because it can sound halting, and because we’re not used to sort of a thoughtful beat, you know, taking a thoughtful few beats of like, what would that mean for the country.” There was no analysis or reasons given, just praise.
It has been showcased that Biden was pitched softball questions by ABC News moderator George Stephanopoulos, not pushing him, not even on issues such as the Hunter Biden story. In contrast, Trump’s moderator, Savannah Guthrie, was disruptive and grilled him on every issue.
Guthrie interrupted the President constantly, and spent the first 20 minutes of what was supposed to be a voter focused town hall personally asking questions. Yet, Camerota ignored this, praising her: “Savannah Guthrie did what no moderator as far as we can tell to this point or host has been able to do with President Trump and that is get him to answer some questions. Stick with it.” If memory serves, CNN blasted the President a few weeks ago for constantly interrupting Biden. Is it okay now because it was done to Trump?
The coverage of the two campaign events mirrored what was seen last night, showing the media are firmly in the corner of the Democratic Party and not in the corner of honest journalism.
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6:06 AM ET
JOHN BERMAN: Joining us now is political reporter Maeve Reston. And CNN political commentator, Errol Louis. He’s the political anchor of Spectrum News. Friends, look, when a President of the United States praises a group that the FBI says can motivate domestic terror, when a President of the United States throws shade on masks, which all kinds of people say could save 100,000 lives by February, it’s hard to step back and take a bigger view than that. It’s hard to say there are other headlines. But Maeve, I want you to try. You wrote an in-depth analysis of these two events last night. And if you were an alien and teleported to Earth last night and were able to watch both events at the same time and process what the biggest takeaway was, what would you say?
MAEVE RESTON [CNN National Political Reporter]: Well, I think it showed voters exactly what they were choosing between in this November election. I mean, you had serious whiplash if you were going back and forth between the two events, but that was largely because, you know, President Trump, every time he gets into one of these settings, it’s immediately contentious, because he interrupts and interjects and threads his answers with inaccuracies and mistruths. And so it created this really contentious dynamic with Savanna Guthrie, who did a great job of cutting him off and fact checking him in the moment. And so it felt like this high-speed, rapid-fire back and forth in that event, which is the kind of volcanic energy that Trump creates that many voters are so tired of. They’re exhausted by those kinds of tactics that he takes. Whereas if you switched over to the Biden event, it really showed you, you know, since in this moment, he wasn’t having to deal with like the Trump effect of cutting him off, he would pause, he would give, you know, a long and sometimes winding answer. But it showed that he was trying to be thoughtful and connect with the questioner and I think that, you know, some people tuning into that, particularly independents who have been turned off by Trump’s style, might say, okay, maybe I’d rather have the next four years look like this than continue listening to, you know, what Trump does on a daily basis, John.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: And Errol, before we get to the medical implications of all of this, if you were an alien just getting out of your spaceship, would you understand what Q-anon was and why the President seems to buy their conspiracy theories?
ERROL LOUIS [CNN Political Commentator]: If I were an alien, I would look at both town halls and see them pretty much the way I saw them last night, which is that there’s one person who seems to be desperate, kind of throwing these Hail Mary passes, desperately trying to change the conversation and refusing to answer very direct questions, including around Q-anon. The notion that this conspiracy theory, which has been written about, which has been identified as a domestic terrorist threat, that the President of the United States doesn’t know anything about it. I mean, this is — it is shocking. Just as John said. Any other day you would say, how is it that the President doesn’t know about something that his own FBI has identified as a terrorist threat. And so, you know, you’ve got somebody in the form of President Trump who doesn’t appear to act like an incumbent. He’s running in many ways against his own government. He’s misusing health statistics, he’s kind of denouncing or distancing himself from the FBI’s findings. He’s running against reality to a great extent, because plain facts that are put before him such as, you owe $400 million to somebody, who is that somebody? And he kind of talks all around it. You know, this is not something that lends a sense of comfort. It was one thing to run as a chaos candidate four years ago, around issues that frankly were either not that important like Hillary’s e-mails or were kind of off in the distance, like, are you going to build a wall. Now we’re running against reality. And these are hard realities that are affecting lots of people’s lives, like mass unemployment and like mas death. And chaos doesn’t appear to work. It’s very jarring to see it on a small screen like that.
BERMAN: Playing against mass death. Also with us, Dr. Jonathan Reiner … Dr. Reiner, looks like we caught you on the way to the O.R. There are models that project that if all of us wore masks, it could save 100,000 lives by the winter. That’s a lot. That’s a lot of lives saved. Dr. Fauci’s practically begging us to wear masks all the time. Yet the President goes on TV, did it at a rally yesterday, and I just couldn’t believe that he did it in this town hall setting in this town hall form and threw shade at the idea of wearing masks. I actually don’t want to play the sound, because it’s misleading. It will mislead the American people, misrepresenting a study the President did last night.
6:19 AM ET
ALISYN CAMEROTA: If you had a hard time switching back and forth last night, flipping channels between both town halls, don’t worry, we’ve got all of the highlights covered for you and we’re back with Maeve Reston and Errol Louis, whose job it was to flip back and forth and analyze. So Maeve, let’s talk about the Biden town hall. He’s really struggling with this court packing question, which seems like it should be an easier question than he’s making it. He’s building in this tease that nobody can quite figure out what the strategy is, but here’s this moment.
JOE BIDEN: I’m not a fan. I didn’t say — it depends on how this turns out. [Spliced Clip] I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS [ABC News Host]: You’ve said so many times during the campaign, all throughout the course of your career, it’s important to level –
BIDEN: It is! But if I say, no matter what answer I gave you, if I say it, that’s the headline tomorrow. It won’t be about what’s going on now, the improper way they’re proceeding.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But don’t voters have a right to know where you stand?
BIDEN: They do have a right to know where I stand and they’ll have a right to know where I stand before I they vote.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’ll come out with a clear answer before election day?
CAMEROTA: Maeve. I’m so confused. His not answer is a headline, it turns out. So what do we take from that.
MAEVE RESTON [CNN National Political Reporter]: Well I think it’s funny how he actually said his strategy out loud or why he couldn’t say it right now, is because he didn’t want to basically distract from the other headlines of the night, which would be Trump’s response to the pandemic or wild conspiracy theories. You know, whatever Joe Biden was expecting Trump to do in that. But it was such a dodge. And one that he keeps making, even though in the past, during his career, he said, you know, at various points that he doesn’t think that court packing is a good thing to do. But he can’t, right now, alienate those voters, you know, on the far-left, who are so angry about the Barrett nomination and the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the way this has all been handled. So he keeps making this dodge, so I guess it gives him like another week or so before he actually has to answer the question and as we know, you know, some 17 million people have cast their ballots already. But it just came off as dodgy, Alisyn.
JOHN BERMAN: You know, actually, if he had been giving this answer for the last three weeks, it wouldn’t be the predicament it is for the Biden campaign. I think he gave more of an answer last night, which is, it depends on what we see out of the Republicans in the Senate. The new thing last night that complicates things for him is he told the American people that he will give a definitive answer before election day. But it was interesting. You’re right, it was interesting to see the sort of mental evolution of it all right there. And Errol, I don’t know if we have this sound. Joe Johns played it at the end of his piece. It has to do — both candidates were asked about what happens if you don’t win the election. President Trump gave the same kind of mealy mouthed answer about the peaceful transfer of power. Ultimately, he sort of half said he would accept it even though he didn’t really. And Joe Biden had a different approach to the idea of what it would mean and how he would handle it if he lost. Listen.
JOE BIDEN: Well, you could say I’m a lousy candidate and I didn’t do a good job. But I think, I hope that it doesn’t say that we are as racially, ethnically, and religiously at odds with one another as it appears the President wants us to be.
BERMAN: One of the things that was interesting there is that was humility. Which is something that we don’t see that much in politics, it seems.
ERROL LOUIS [CNN Political Commentator]: Well, it’s been absent from the white house for the last four years, for sure. Joe Biden often tells little self-deprecating jokes and he did it in last night’s town hall meeting, and he did it a little bit even in that answer. But that larger question, that goes directly to his brand. It also helps explain, by the way, why Joe Biden doesn’t necessarily want to throw any kind of radical proposals into the mix when it comes to changing U.S. Institutions like the Supreme Court. The Joe Biden brand, his value proposition, his argument to the voters in these closing weeks is that he wants to bring the country together. That he wants to give us some relief from some of the chaos we’ve seen over the last four years. And it cuts against that argument to jump out there and say, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that. There was also, by the way, John, a little bit of sadness there, I think. This notion, as he thought about it and tried to process the question, you know, what if this is what the country wants. What if what the country wants is a lot of strange and wrong information coming from their commander in chief, vague and disturbing answers about conspiracy theories and terrorist threats. Unanswered questions about foreign influence in our democracy. I mean, you know, there is something that I think that, you know, you talk to your democratic friends. A lot of them, in the end, are a little bit scared that maybe this is where we’re going. Maybe this is where the country ends up. That’s what I heard Joe Biden saying, and of course he’s offering himself as an answer. And if the polls are right, it seems like a lot of Americans do agree with him.
BERMAN: It’s interesting, you had the Biden campaign manager stressing yesterday that they think this race is a lot closer than the polls may be showing.
CAMEROTA: I look forward to asking them about that later in the program. But I think that Joe Biden’s style, because it can sound halting, and because we’re not used to sort of a thoughtful beat, you know, taking a thoughtful few beats of like, what would that mean for the country. It was just — it was interesting on many levels, to hear how he answered that. Errol, Maeve, thank both very much.
7-54 AM ET
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Two networks. Two Presidential town halls.
JOHN BERMAN: Like cabaret. Two ladies, just one man. One of the great songs. Is that where you are going?
CAMEROTA: Yeah that is where I was going. You read my mind. You finished my sentence. NBC was taking heat for scheduling the one with President Trump at the very same time as ABC’s town hall with Joe Biden. But then the President faced a lot of tough questions from Savannah Guthrie. So did that vindicate them? Joining us now chief media correspondent Brian Stelter host of Reliable Sources. Brain, Savannah Guthrie did what no moderator as far as we can tell to this point or host has been able to do with President Trump and that is get him to answer some questions. Stick with it. Be as persistent as it takes until he answers some questions. Your thoughts?
BRAIN STELTER [CNN Chief Media Correspondent]: Well that’s why – It’s because he rarely ventures off the Fox reservation. He frequently just stays within the safe spaces, calls into his friend’s radio shows and TV shows. It is rare to see him on a network like NBC which he constantly derived. Think about the last four years. This President has never given an interview to CNN. That is astonishing. That is outrageous. Trump rarely goes on NBC. So this opportunity for a town hall did double as an opportunity for an interview by Savannah Guthrie. And I think it will probably be the last real substantive interview this President does before election day. Because when he is questioned he doesn’t have very straight answers. You were talking earlier about his answers or his lack of answers about his lack of testing for coronavirus. His outrageous answers about Qanon. Downright dangerous. You know, he struggles in these environments where he actually is questioned. But kudos to Savannah Guthrie for asking the quick questions and quick follow up and she poked and prodded. She did her job as a journalist. In some ways, she’s done what every journalist in this country has wanted to do with Trump for a long time.
BERMAN: Look, we don’t have the ratings yet so we don’t know which town hall got more viewers and I’m not even sure that will tell us overly much because it isn’t totally clear anyway if you watched one it made you more likely to vote for a certain candidate. But really the important question here Brian is what do the viewers get from this what did the viewers take away from this hour and a half of television last night? And perhaps what would have been different had there been a debate.
STELTER: I think it was a visible reminder that Trumped walked away from the debate. And that really is a shame. I’m glad it is not getting lost in all the coverage this morning. This was a poor substitute for lack of a debate. But part of the blame for the lack of the debate is on the commission. A part of the blame is one Trump of course for walking away last week. But part of the blame is on the commission for having botched this entire season of Presidential debates. Now there is one more. Next Thursday. Hopefully it will go off without a hitch. But it’s been a really rough season for the commission. And I think this dueling town hall format, this split screen, all this tension of the candidates talking past each other, it reminds us about why we actually do need real debate in this country.
Camerota: But why Brian!? The first one, it’s not like people got substantive answers. Because as you know President Trump interrupt ad lot. Joe Biden called President Trump names. Why do you think a town hall is a poor substitute for THAT?
STELTER: Certainly there were some helpful answers. There are useful exchanges in these town halls. I don’t mean to totally diminish them. I thought ABC’s town hall with Trump last month was also useful. And Biden’s town hall on NBC. These are useful. But there is a reason why, there is a tradition in this country of having real debates in the fall for the last 40, 50 plus years. And the fact that Trump walked away and the commission made it so easy for him to walk away I think speaks to what’s broken about this debate model. This commission also chose Steve Scully of C-SPAN who yesterday – admitted to lying and now he’s been suspended by CSPAN. Now you could look at that and say hey – it’s great to see someone being held accountable for fessing up to wrong doing. We don’t see that often in politics. At least in the media we do. Scully tweeted Anthony Scaramucci and lied and said he was hacked and and finally a week later Scully admitted actually no it was his tweet all along and he’s apologizing now. But that was going to be the moderator for this debate. I just think it points to the structural problems with the debate commission and perhaps in 2024 it is time for a redo, a makeover of the process to get the candidates involved, to make sure they are willing to debate and actually talk to each other and not past each other on separate channels.