CNN, Milgram, and Trump
As to the wisdom of appearing on a TV channel known far and wide for active news-reporting "errors" that have been loudly and repeatedly fact-checked and belatedly corrected, we have no opinion, other than to say that as a leading contender for the upcoming presidential contest in 2024, in every poll, from every source, it makes sense for CNN to extend its fishing trawl to catch viewers who (like this author) never tune in to that now-tainted near-defunct channel, after innumerable misstatements and errors of consequence have turned away the wary.
But the recent, let-me-say cool move of disfavored Atlanta, Georgia–based CNN to host an hour-long town hall in the first state of voting, New Hampshire, with former president Donald J. Trump was in many senses a coup.
The hysterics greeting the occasion after the fact of Kaitlan Collins interviewing feisty 45 showed that the risk Trump took was perhaps considerable.
He could, contrarily, expose himself and his piquant humor and well turned arguments to a new segment of the polity. Worth a college try.
The audience of largely New Hampshire Republican or unaligned voters had on the whole voted at least once for Trump, so his responses often elicited significant applause, laughter, and audible approval.
So far, so expectable.
After the relentless hammering of host interviewer Kaitlan Collins on issues she all-but-demanded Trump agree with her (CNN's) position on — such as Trump's culpability on the "insurrection" of 6 January and his non-ordering of 10,000 D.C. troops to control the expected response to what millions felt was a "rigged election," and whether 45 would accede to the election results "this time" because he has not yet conceded the loss of the second term in the 2020 election results — he managed to hold it together as the much more focused and in-control businessman and impresario determined to finish his thoughts despite endless Woody Woodpecker chippings and nitpicky (and often wrong) interpolations throughout the hour.
After that exhausting edge-of-seat hour, the CNN panel of seven Trump-loathers chirped their singular and cumulative hate-sprach at the cameras, lest anyone forget this was, after all, CNN, the hate-Trump and hate-Republican channel.
There was the sane corrective — huzzah for the bookers — of Floridian congressman Byron Lowell Donalds, who delivered crisp rebuttals and correctives to all the unholy flotsam guttering about the panel with balm and healing rationality. He shut the flappy orifices of the naysayers by noting that for all the wild and overblown crit of the boffo perf of ex-(and future) prez, Trump had done the job far better than the recent W.H. occupant has managed, "and that's a fact."
Which, of course, it was. And is.
Following these interludes, the in-studio audience was questioned acidulously as to their "honest reactions" by veteran newsie, author, and cartoonist Jake Tapper.
Note that Tapper salted every question, in a way no true journalist or M.C. should, with endless strings around the audience's fingers that Trump had consistently expelled a packet of lies. No question to any audience member in Manchester was free of the obvious taint of the interviewer's unvarying prompt that Trump had "lied" on every issue. No one dared call attention to Tapper's obnoxious poisoning the well. It would have been "rude" — and would have been silenced.
Some have decided that the dozen or so responses from the pro-Trump crowd were not unabashedly slavish or 100% behind the former Apprentice centerpiece.
May we remind the reader that back in 1961, Yale professor Stanley Milgram did a series of experiments on obedience. His remarkably premised experiments showed that people will often without much decision-making go along with the tester, even when they disagree with the methods, behavior, or ethos of the experimenter. Even when major stakes were involved.
At the time, Milgram found that testees were willing to administer a fatal voltage to test subjects, just because the person conducting the tests told them to or gave the high-okay sign. The subjects thought the voltage was live and could indeed electrify the persons in the booths.
I am of the opinion that Tapper's needless and unprofessional leaning on President Trump's alleged untruthfulness influenced the audience answers. They shaded their generally positive responses to more accord with the crispy-nasty expectations of Tapper.
Disclosure: This author has been in some later experiments of this type, in grad school and later, and we admit that it's fairly difficult not to obey the perceived "boss" of the experiment.
So while the CNN triumphalists could crow about the so-so responses of the local audience members, all of whom are avowed Trumpists for one or two elections, there is reason to suspect that the answers provided were not true reflections of how the respondents actually feel about Trump or about the issues covered.