Donald Trump, a room full of Trump supporters, and a single news host with absolutely no mechanism for reining in Trump’s statements. What could go wrong? Exactly what you would expect.

From the very first moment of CNN’s beyond ill-advised open mic night for Trump, he simply lied in response to everything that host Kaitlan Collins asked and either ignored any attempt to correct his lies, or shouted (and sneered) Collins down with the help of a pro-Trump crowd, hand-picked by CNN, which cheered him at every lie, whooped over every insult, and applauded at every threat.

At the end of the evening, CNN issued a statement saying, “Tonight Kaitlan Collins exemplified what it means to be a world-class journalist. She asked tough, fair and revealing questions. And she followed up and fact-checked President Trump in real time.” Anyone unfortunate enough to watch even a moment of the evening knows that CNN has confused the term “journalist” with “doormat.” A day after Donald Trump was held responsible for the sexual assault and defamation of one professional woman, CNN simply gave him another professional woman to humiliate in front of the nation. And he did. While a room full of adoring worshippers laughed.

The bullying, abusive, misogynistic aspect of the evening was there from the start as Trump talked over, mocked, and generally treated Collins like … like he treats any woman who dares to talk back to him.

Collins and Trump have a history. As USA Today reported in 2018, Collins was pulled aside in advance of a White House briefing for asking “inappropriate” questions of Trump. Then she was told that she had been “disinvited” from a Rose Garden event on that day. This wasn’t the only time that Trump or his team went after Collins, and it’s certainly not the only time that Trump railed against CNN or banned members of the organization from the White House press briefing room.

On Wednesday night, new CNN CEO Chris Licht—who reportedly personally briefed Collins on how to handle Trump during the event—placed his reporter in an impossible position. Caught between a loud and disdainful Trump, an audience that encouraged his every moment of belligerence, and a format that gave her no means of maintaining decorum, Collins might as well have been handed over to Trump with a sign reading “Official Sacrifice.”

When Collins attempted to ask Trump about the differences between his handling of classified documents and those of President Joe Biden, Trump did what he had already done at least a dozen times by then: He cut her off in mid-question.

Trump: “Are you ready? Can I talk? Do you mind?”
Collins: “Yeah, I would like for you to answer the question. That’s why I asked it.”
Trump: “It’s very simple that you’re a nasty person, I’ll tell you.”
Crowd: [Big cheers, applause, laughter.]

That’s the evening in a nutshell. By the time things reached Trump looming over Collins, pointing at her, and calling her a “nasty person” in the middle of a response that made no sense but garnered big applause, any hint that there was something to be gleaned from this event was long, long gone.

It’s not that Collins didn’t ask good questions. She did. It’s not that she didn’t try to follow up, or that she hesitated in efforts to fact check at least some of Trump’s mile-a-minute lies. She did those things as well. It’s that the format of the event gave Collins absolutely no support. For the raucous crowd she was the perfect prop—the pretty woman that Trump could abuse for their amusement.

At several points, Collins appeared to serve as a proxy while Trump got the opportunity to further defame, demean, and belittle writer E. Jean Carroll. As columnist Ruth Ben-Ghiat put it, “CNN became a party to Trump’s need to psychologically ‘undo’ his defeat by getting the audience to applaud him for being an assaulter. The more approval authoritarians get, the more they feel emboldened to be even more lawless. This is why this ‘town hall’ was so dangerous.” Others have suggested that Carroll could sue Trump again over the ugly and humiliating statements for which CNN provided a platform.

Throughout the evening, there were a few moments of actual questioning worth repeating, mostly because of Trump’s refusal to answer. As when Trump equivocated into “I can’t recall” territory when asked if he had displayed classified documents to others at Mar-a-Lago. Or when Trump refused to say that he wanted Ukraine to survive Vladimir Putin’s invasion. But those moments were definitely not worth it. No one needed another rally/journalist roast/misogynist roadshow to know that Trump is simply awful. That was clear going in.

The reviews for CNN’s stunt event are scattered across television and the internet on Thursday morning, and they’re uniformly as miserable as they should be.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called CNN’s decision to provide Trump with this prime-time rally “a profoundly irresponsible decision” and “shameful.”

Joe Scarborough at MSNBC called the event “just disgraceful on every level.”

Podcast host Keith Olbermann declared it “the Hindenberg of TV News.” He also called for Licht to be fired.

But when critiquing CNN’s event, it’s hard to do better than CNN’s own Jake Tapper.

The falsehoods kept coming fast and furious about the January 6 insurrection, about vice president Pence, about Pence’s ability to overturn the election, about COVID, and about the economy and more. He called a Black law enforcement officer a “thug.” He said people here in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown don’t speak English. He attacked Kaitlan as a nasty woman because she was trying to get him to answer a question.Perhaps most chillingly, the day after a nine-person jury of his peers in New York found him liable for sexual battery and defamation and ordered him to pay writer E. Jean Carroll $5 million, he made fun of her account, of her sexual assault, and many in the audience laughed.

That’s an accurate summary. It’s a shame that as Tapper was speaking, CNN was showing Trump still standing on the stage they provided, accepting a standing ovation from the audience they selected. Collins was nowhere to be seen as a smiling Trump continued to point at people in the crowd and banter with his fans.

It was writer George Bernard Shaw who said, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” Trump certainly seemed to like his evening.

Just like Republican Party leadership in 2016, Licht thought he could roll in that mud and come out miraculously clean. Or else he knew exactly what would happen, which is infinitely worse. But then, Licht seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a news organization does. “Kaitlan pressed him again and again and made news,” Licht wrote to his staff on Thursday morning. “Made a LOT of news. And that is our job.”

No. It’s not.

Kaitlan Collins deserves an apology. So does America.