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CNN says Trump to appear in New Hampshire town hall

KEYT

By DAVID BAUDER and MICHELLE L. PRICE
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — As president, Donald Trump frequently derided CNN as “fake news.” Now that he’s running again, Trump has agreed to appear on a live town hall forum from New Hampshire next week for CNN viewers.

The event, scheduled for May 10 at St. Anselm’s College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, will be televised at 9 p.m. Eastern. Kaitlan Collins will moderate. Trump will take questions from Republicans and undeclared voters who are planning to participate in the 2024 GOP primary.

Although Trump has taken audience questions at some rallies and has been interviewed by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson in recent weeks on Fox News, this is his first town hall-style event of the 2024 campaign.

The booking is a clear attempt by Trump to draw a contrast with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an expected GOP presidential primary opponent. It is also a big deal for slumping CNN as it works to get beyond the era of former leader Jeff Zucker.

Trump never gave an interview to a CNN journalist while he was president.

A Trump adviser who was not authorized to speak publicly said stepping outside of the traditional comfort zone for Republicans was key to Trump’s success in 2016. The adviser said CNN executives made a compelling pitch to Trump.

DeSantis has worked to avoid the mainstream media throughout his time in his office, but he is a regular on Fox News, a popular destination for conservative viewers.

DeSantis has long refused to sit for interviews or take questions with other media outlets who might ask more difficult questions. When he does have news conferences, he often holds them far from the Florida capital and with little advance notice, making it tough for journalists who know Florida politics best to attend.

As he traveled across the nation in recent weeks as part of his book tour, DeSantis usually avoided taking questions from voters or local reporters, aside from isolated interviews with conservative media.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who formally launched his presidential campaign last week, has appeared on MSNBC and CNN. Another contender, Vivek Ramaswamy, sat for a contentious interview with former CNN personality Don Lemon.

Trump’s relationship with CNN was complicated, particularly given Zucker’s role in promoting Trump on “Celebrity Apprentice” when the executive was at NBC. CNN, under Zucker’s leadership, was also criticized for the extent to which it aired Trump campaign rallies early in the 2016 cycle.

As president, Trump denounced CNN as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people” and chafed under tough questioning by reporters like Jim Acosta and Collins. He attacked Zucker vitriolically.

As a result, CNN became unpopular with Trump’s supporters and other Republican politicians. Current CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht, who replaced Zucker, has made it a mission to broaden the network’s reach and ease some of the tension with the GOP.

The forums are a CNN tradition with presidential contenders and the network has been in touch with other candidates about doing something similar, said David Chalian, the network’s vice president and political director. DeSantis is not a declared presidential candidate.

“That would be a wonderful byproduct if indeed other candidates say that we should accept an invitation as well,” Chalian said. “But that’s not why we’re doing it.”

Licht is also trying to rebuild CNN’s struggling prime-time lineup. Landing Trump for the town hall — if it goes well — could be a step toward accomplishing multiple goals.

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Associated Press reporter Steve Peoples from Washington contributed to this report.

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