In early April 2020, some six months before the presidential election and at the height of the Covid pandemic, I published this post about Alex Cohen that’s proven quite prescient.
Cohen hosts a thoughtful show called “Inside the Issues” on Spectrum’s Los Angeles cable news channel. I became an instant fan of Cohen’s after hearing her interview former New York Times editor Jill Abramson at the Skirball Cultural Center and was blown away by her skillful questioning. Cohen was very respectful of Abramson and didn’t set out to embarrass her, but Abramson didn’t have compelling answers to Cohen’s inquiries.
“I can’t believe Abramson once ran the New York Times,” my cousin Rob remarked as we exited the event.
Here’s the final paragraph from my post about Alex Cohen:
Americans can’t afford to entrust coverage of the coronavirus pandemic to corporate owned entertainment companies looking to incite drama and conflict to fuel the prejudices of their respective audiences. These times require real-deal television journalists like Alex Cohen who has the talent, temperament, and temerity to engage Donald Trump and expose truths about the president that would be undeniable even to his longtime supporters. As was true with Jill Abramson of the New York Times, the president won’t even know what hit him.
I had CNN in mind when I wrote the paragraph, and if the cable news channel was a credible news channel committed to airing serious journalism, it would be chock full of tough minded but fair anchors like Cohen, better known as “Axles of Evil” to fans who remember her from her professional roller derby days. Instead, CNN looks to promote an inexperienced 31-year-old beauty who not all that long ago was pledging at University of Alabama’s Alpha Pi sorority and tweeting anti-gay slurs like “fag,” declaring she wouldn’t want to live with a lesbian.
Kaitlin Collins was the CNN anchor who Donald Trump mercilessly steamrolled during a “town hall” interview on Wednesday night and left her for roadkill. Trump so bloodied Collins that CNN felt compelled to terminate the scheduled 90-minute interview 20 minutes early, granting Trump what is known in boxing parlance as a knockout victory. Collins’ interview was a new low in journalism reality show entertainment, which is how I regard the cable news channels and news broadcasts produced by corporate interests such as Comcast’s NBC and Disney’s ABC.
Collins’ corporate media apologists will insist that she previously served as a White House reporter, to which I counter with an insight former senior Obama aide Ben Rhodes shared with the New York Times about the inexperience and ineptitude of reporters he dealt with.
“The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change,” Rhodes said. “They literally know nothing.”
Most Americans share my dim view of U.S. broadcast journalism. A Gallup poll published last July revealed that only 16% percent of Americans have considerable confidence in the print media, and only 11% have considerable confidence in television news. The only institution with a lower trust rating is Congress, with a 7% confidence rating.
The growing distrust and disdain for television journalism was apparent while Trump was slaughtering Collins, as the audience gave him a standing ovation. The corporate media assumes CNN’s hand-picked audience were all Trump supporters, but my suspicion is that some took a dislike to Collins and appreciated her primary interest was to promote the media’s well- worn agenda and trigger some “gotcha” moments showing Trump for the dishonest and despicable person that he is.
Collins was way out of her depth because cable anchors are accustomed to interviewing guests who are deferential to them and don’t mind being used as foils to make the anchors appear knowledgeable and informed. Trump has honed impressive skills reducing television journalists as his foils. He knew Collins had an agenda when he sat down for his interview and used her as his punching bag to spew all his message points, many of them undeniably false and discredited.
Collins’ sophomoric questioning played to Trump’s strengths. Asking a former president who he wants to win the Russia/Ukraine conflict is frighteningly bush league and allowed Trump to declare he just wants to stop people getting killed. A question that Trump couldn’t easily duck is asking how the conflict is impacting American interests. Of course, that’s a line of questioning the corporate media would be reluctant to pursue because despite U.S. calls for Russian sanctions, Russia’s oil sales to China and India now exceed the country’s total crude sales volume before the conflict.
Collins missed a possible opportunity to make market moving news. Electric vehicles have become a political issue, as U.S. taxpayers are heavily subsidizing EV sales that mostly only affluent Americans can afford. As well, genuine environmentalists, meaning those who appreciate the hazards of mining and refining the metals and minerals needed to produce EVs, are increasingly understanding and voicing concerns that EVs might not be the environmental panacea originally believed.
Asking Trump if he’d maintain the EV mandates of the Biden Administration would have been quite illuminating, particularly if he said he’d reverse them. GM and Ford are well underway firing their gas engine employees and related infrastructure, possibly to the point of no return.
Collins instead chose to focus on issues on which Trump’s positions are well known, so the biggest news story to come out of her interview was that Trump isn’t truthful. I feel sorry for anyone for whom that’s big news.
Rather than fess up to the poor judgment of putting Collins in the ring with Trump, CNN shamefully cheered her performance.
“Tonight, Kaitlan Collins exemplified what it means to be a world-class journalist,” the network said in a statement late Wednesday night. “She asked tough, fair, and revealing questions. And she followed up and fact-checked President Trump in real time to arm voters with crucial information about his positions as he enters the 2024 election as the Republican frontrunner,” the statement continued. “That is CNN’s role and responsibility: to get answers and hold the powerful to account.”
Here’s some breaking news for CNN: The American public doesn’t trust you or believe your fact checks. All you accomplished Wednesday night was bolstering Trump’s standing with his supporters.
CNN staffers are heaping the blame entirely on management.
The network’s media reporter Oliver Darcy noted in his newsletter that new network CEO Chris Licht was “facing a fury of criticism both internally and externally over the event.”
“And CNN aired it all. On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage,” The Hill reported Darcy as saying about his own network. “And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement.”
If the audience was indeed Republican, Darcy should be calling out the network persons responsible, but corporate journalists prefer to blame everyone but themselves.
Perhaps I’m alone in my judgment, but Trump looked like hell warmed over during the interview. He has aged considerably, his shoulders were hunched, and he sat slumped in his chair. Getting charged on multiple counts in mounting jurisdictions I suspect can wear on the soul, but Collins was too self-absorbed with her own career promotion to notice the person sitting across from her.
Some corporate journalists have suggested the entrenched media should simply ignore Trump, which would be a dereliction of responsibility given that some polls show that Trump not only could win the Republican nomination, but also another presidential term. I’ve yet to see one suggestion that the current crop of television news personnel lacks the talent and gravitas to credibly challenge Trump and convince his supporters of his dishonesty.
Sadly, CNN has little incentive to clean house and hire experienced interviewers like Alex Cohen. The Collins’ debacle was CNN’s highest rated show in years.
As reported by the New York Post, the perennially last-place cable network reeled in 3.3 million viewers for Wednesday’s 70-minute Trump promotion. By comparison, Anderson Cooper, who normally hosts a show in the time slot, averages less than 1 million viewers. CNN even attracted 781,000 viewers in the coveted 25-54 demographic.
Reality show TV is strictly a numbers game, and by that standard, Kaitlin Collins hit a home run for her employer.