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On August 30, 2020, CNN aired an extraordinary prime-time broadcast between its Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta and US President Donald Trump. The interview, entitled “The Spectacle of Lies,” sparked both criticism and soul-searching amongst viewers and pundits alike.
The controversial questions touched on a number of contentious topics, including the US economy and the President’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In his responses, Trump displayed his usual aggressive rhetoric, calling Acosta’s questions “stupid” and “racist.”
The interview itself was heavily scrutinized, particularly by the President’s supporters who felt that Acosta was disrespectful and lobbing softball questions. They argued that CNN had failed to ask tough questions and remain neutral, accusing the network of partisan bias. They also criticized Acosta for failing to challenge the President’s false claims and for not standing up for the rights of the American people.
Many liberal commentators, however, lauded the interview as necessary and long overdue. They argued that it was a necessary step in holding the President accountable, particularly when it comes to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The New York Times’ opinion editor, James Bennet, opined: “In the face of real problems, we need sobriety and clarity, not spectacle and lies. That’s the job of CNN, and Mr. Acosta did it with conviction and vigor.”
The soul-searching was not only limited to viewers, however. Acosta himself was criticised for not being tougher on the President, and for not being better-prepared for the interview. The experience left Acosta reflecting on his role in the media, and how he would approach similar interviews in the future.
The President’s supporters argued that CNN had invited him on to create a spectacle rather than a meaningful discussion, while his detractors felt that it was necessary to hold him accountable. Whatever the case, the interview became a key moment in the November election season and will continue to be discussed and debated long afterwards.