Amid CNN Trump Town Hall Backlash, Zaslav Defends Ex-President’s Appearance: ‘He’s the Front-Runner — He Has to Be on Our Network’

Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav weighed in on CNN’s controversial decision to host a live town-hall format Q&A with former President Donald Trump — defending the decision as needing to represent “both sides.”

“The U.S. has a divided government. We need to hear both voices,” Zaslav said, speaking Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” when asked about Trump’s scheduled May 10 appearance on CNN. “Republicans are on the air on CNN, Democrats are on the air… When we do politics, we need to represent both sides. I think it’s important for America.”

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Zaslav continued about Trump, “He’s the front-runner — he has to be on our network. We’re happy he’s coming on there.”

“This is a new CNN,” Zaslav said. “I’m proud of CNN, we’re on a great journey and this country needs it.”

CNN became part of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery in April 2022, after the close of Discovery’s deal for WarnerMedia. Just two months prior, Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and president of CNN Worldwide, exited the company after revealing a consensual relationship with another employee. Zaslav tapped Chris Licht, formerly executive producer and showrunner for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” to come on board as CNN’s CEO.

Asked by CNBC’s Joe Kernen if CNN was an “advocacy network” under the previous ownership, Zaslav deflected, saying, “Everybody’s gotta make a judgment on everything based on how they feel.”

CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins will moderate the town hall with Trump on May 10 starting at 9 p.m. ET from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. The ex-president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate will take questions from Collins and a live audience of New Hampshire Republican and undeclared voters who say they intend to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, according to CNN.

Trump — who has repeatedly and falsely claimed he won the 2020 election — last fall officially announced that he is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

Trump has routinely called CNN journalism “fake news” and yelled at CNN reporters (and other journalists) during White House press conferences. CNN sued the Trump White House in 2018 after Jim Acosta’s credentials were revoked following a contentious press conference.

Zaslav appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” after Warner Bros. Discovery reported first-quarter 2023 earnings. The company posted a $1.07 billion loss but told investors its U.S. streaming business had turned in an adjusted operating income of $50 million — and that WBD expects the U.S. direct-to-consumer segment to be profitable for full-year 2023.

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