Inside CNN Debate Over Broadcast of Trump’s Iowa Caucus Victory Speech

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Tensions within CNN over coverage of former President Donald J. Trump came to light Thursday during an internal call with the network’s reporters, as an executive frankly questioned the he approach of the channel’s new general manager, Mark Thompson.

CNN aired about 10 minutes of Mr. Trump’s victory speech after his victory in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, before cutting it off. The decision to interrupt him drew derision from the former president and his allies, even as critics on the left questioned why CNN took Mr. Trump on air, given his tendency to spread falsehoods and conspiracies. MSNBC chose not to air any of his remarks live.

Mr. Thompson opened his morning conference call Thursday by acknowledging a debate within his newsroom, saying he believed the network had a journalistic obligation to air the leading Republican presidential candidate’s remarks.

After a period of silence, a senior vice president of programming, Jim Murphy, intervened, telling Mr. Thompson that the network had given Mr. Trump too much airtime when the network broadcast the news conference live from Mr. Trump last week after his civil fraud. tests. Mr. Murphy said CNN should cover Mr. Trump’s comments when he makes news, not when he repeats political talking points.

The debate on the conference call, which was open to thousands of CNN journalists, was described by three people who either listened to the call or were briefed on its contents. They requested anonymity to avoid retaliation for sharing details of a conversation meant to be private.

The exchange between Mr. Thompson and Mr. Murphy, which lasted about 15 minutes, was heated but collegial, the sources said. According to one account, Mr. Thompson said he thought CNN had struck the right balance between allowing the public to hear the Republican candidate, while not allowing Mr. Trump an endless platform — and that he thought that CNN, at one point during the 2016 election, had given Mr. Trump too much airtime. It’s a criticism that the channel’s president at the time, Jeff Zucker, acknowledged.

The conundrum of covering Mr. Trump, who is often quick to launch inflammatory and misleading remarks, has vexed news executives since the early days of his first presidential campaign. The tensions within CNN reflect continuing debates in journalistic circles, even as Mr. Trump inches closer to the Republican nomination.

On MSNBC, a channel popular with left-leaning viewers, anchor Rachel Maddow told viewers on the night of the caucuses that she simply would not broadcast Mr. Trump live.

“It’s not out of spite. It’s not a decision we welcome,” Ms Maddow said. “It’s a decision that we come back to regularly, and honestly and seriously. It’s not an easy decision. But there is a price for us as a news organization to pay if we knowingly spread false information. »

That approach drew mockery from a Trump ally, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, later in the week. “That ?” Mr. Hannity said on his Fox News program. “The audience will melt if they hear it?