Trump should make 'town halls' the new fireside chat
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Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE. Both big names on the political scene. And both held Town Hall events on CNN this week that created some compelling exchanges with audience members with soundbites that carried into the next day's news cycle.

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CNN is now the home of political town halls more than any other network, having done more of them during the presidential campaign than its competitors. And as we've seen post-election via Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) and Speaker of the House Ryan (R-Wis.), this kind of programming is going to continue on the network, particularly thanks to them rating noticeably higher than regular programming.

 

But let's take it up a notch. Sanders and Ryan are quality bookings for different reasons (one nearly captured the Democratic nomination against all odds, one was a VP candidate and current speaker), no doubt about it.

But wouldn't it be both the ultimate display of democracy on display if a President Trump or Vice President Pence did four per year collectively as well?

For CNN to pull this off is a tall order to ask. After all, the network -- even more than the New York Times or Washington Post -- is the incoming administration's #1 media target right now if the exchange with an overzealous Jim Acosta and a temperamental Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE at Wednesday's press conference is any indication. But the tension has actually existed for the past seven months, and Trump has acted accordingly by calling the network "dishonest as hell" and "disgusting" while appearing on the network exactly once since June.

But perhaps a town hall setting -- and a promise to allow Trump to take questions from audience members only to avoid any of the media filter he often rails against to the delight of his supporters -- would be a way to thaw a Cold War between outlet and administration.

CNN president Jeff Zucker -- who has known Trump for well over a decade originally via NBC's "The Apprentice" -- a show that originated when Zucker was running the ship over at NBC Universal.

“I have had a unique relationship with Donald Trump,” Zucker said at a Harvard University forum in October. “I’m the one who put him and The Apprentice on the air at NBC. I’ve known who he is and what he is for a long time.”

Of course, FOX or MSNBC/NBC or CBS or ABC should and would be given some at-bats here to as well. And all would surely jump at the chance given the likely-sizable ratings a Trump (and even Pence) Town Hall would bring with them.

The concept of taking a message directly and fairly consistently to the people goes back to 1933, FDR had broadcast 30 evening radio conversations — called fireside chats — from 1933 through 1944.

The nation was on edge given the devastation of the Great Depression — stocks were down 75 percent, unemployment was at 25 percent and suicides had tripled — and later via the deadliest foreign war in our nation's history (World War II) starting in late 1941.

"The speeches, which ran anywhere from 11 minutes to more than 40 — depending on the speech itself and the number of “persuasive pauses,” — gave Roosevelt a chance to explain and defend his New Deal policies," explains Time's Jennifer Latson in a great piece on the subject. "They were known for their comforting effect on an uneasy populace, as much during the Depression as they later were during World War II.

Radio addresses are obviously still conducted by the president today (a weekly radio address broadcast every Saturday), but the media landscape is so fractured that said addresses make more than a ripple in the news pond.

But primetime town halls could be a different story. These will get serious attention, particularly if Trump is involved. And unlike fireside addresses or weekly radio addresses or Trump's very active Twitter feed, the conversation wouldn't be a one-way street. Trump — a populist more than a conservative — would likely embrace the chance to interact directly with the populace in this setting. 

And by having regular people asking the questions and sharing their experiences, there will be a certain trust level built-in, even for wary Trump supporters who believe — perhaps justifiably — that members of the media are acting largely as anti-Trump activists, not journalists. 

The Hill has reached out to White House press secretary Sean Spicer for comment on the idea and will update accordingly.

Joe Concha is a media writer for The Hill.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.