It was an ugly Wednesday night Town Hall on CNN. Donald Trump in prime time, before an audience of true believers. To call it cringe-worthy is an understatement. Fodder for another lawsuit is more like it. Trump at his most Trump-like. What he didn’t tell the jury, he told the town hall. Here is what he said:

“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes you’re playing hanky-panky in a dressing room?”

Susan Estrich

Sorry, Mr. Trump. That is the wrong question. E. Jean Carroll wasn’t on trial in New York. Donald Trump was. What kind of man meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes sexually assaults them in a dressing room?

A sore loser, as always, Trump continued his attack at the CNN Town Hall, calling Carroll a “whack job,” her story a “fake,” and the civil trial a “rigged deal.” Carroll is deciding whether to sue yet again. The man won’t stop.

When will enough be enough?

The debate about whether CNN was right to give him a forum is almost beside the point. If not CNN, then he will find another mouthpiece. There is no silencing him. He is a magnet for the media — and for the rest of us as well. He is the traffic accident we can’t stop looking at, the collision we keep running into. We know we shouldn’t look, but how can you avoid it?

To watch Donald Trump in action, it seemed that he had already won the Republican nomination and was running in the general election again against Joe Biden. And that raises what is the fundamental question with Trump.

How does the media cover him? How do you cover someone who spreads lies with impunity? You can’t fact-check every word that comes out of his mouth or he wouldn’t get a full sentence out. On the other hand, to simply let him go is to give free rein to a master fraudster.

CNN attempted to do the balancing act, clearly rehearsed for days, and satisfied no one, earning loud criticism for giving him a forum to continue to belittle Carroll and peddle his lies about the last election. “The election was not rigged, Mr. President,” the moderator told him at one point. “You cannot keep saying that all night long.” But of course he did, and what could she do? The audience clapped and cheered when Trump belittled her as well, calling her a “nasty person.”

“While we all may have been uncomfortable hearing people clapping, that was also an important part of the story,” Chris Licht, the CEO of CNN said on Thursday, “because the people in that audience represent a large swath of America. And the mistake the media made in the past is ignoring that those people exist. Just like you cannot ignore that President Trump exists.”

No one is ignoring Trump. No one is pretending he doesn’t exist. The problem, as even CNN’s Jake Tapper recognized, is that “we don’t have enough time to fact-check every lie he told.” And without that time, journalists can’t do their job, which is to check facts and to report the truth, not simply to broadcast the fake news that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. And that, sadly, is what CNN did on Wednesday night, and what others will find themselves doing in the months ahead.

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