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Van Jones is now everywhere.
After an emotional (but well-reasoned) Election Night plea to America that went viral, the CNN political commentator and former Obama administration adviser has become a de facto voice for progressives after a stunning November night.
Recently, he’s been hosting local forums on CNN in a new series, titled The Messy Truth, and trying to promote better understanding between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s America.
Days before the inauguration, he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about political media as it enters the President Trump era. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
The president-elect recently singled out CNN for being a “fake news” purveyor. How should journalists (and media execs) approach Trump as he takes office?
I think people have to continue to hold him accountable. Just because he says it’s “fake news” doesn’t mean it’s fake news. The reality is that CNN was incredibly responsible in handling what had already exploded online as as massive internet story, taking over Twitter, taking over Facebook. CNN never repeated the salacious allegations but had to actually deal with the reality of the fact that the allegations were out there.
I think we handled it exactly the right way, textbook way. I don’t think Donald Trump knows what journalism is. Donald Trump’s definition of a fake poll is one that makes him feel bad. His definition of fake news is news that makes him feel bad. His definition of a great poll, or great news story, is one that makes him feel good.
That means he is only in touch with the inner emotional reality of Donald Trump, not the objective reality of the world, and that’s the world that news organizations have to cover.
At a Ted Sarandos-hosted event on Sunday, you said, “Trump is much worse than people understand,” and, “His supporters are much better than people understand.” Could you elaborate on that?
This is what we’re discovering through our Messy Truth program, where I’m getting a chance to go out to places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and sit down and talk — knee to knee sometimes — at kitchen tables and in cafes, with Trump supporters.
I think, to my great relief, a lot of people voted for Trump holding their nose. Taking a risk in hopes that things might be better, but not needing to endorse every horrific, crazy, inflammatory, bigoted thing he ever said.
That means that Trump is on thinner ice than he may realize with some of his voters, and on any particular issue his coalition may be smaller than he assumes. Especially when you get down to attacking innocent American Muslims, or deporting Dreamers. Some people who voted for him would be appalled if he actually followed through on that stuff.
Also, from the Sarandos event — which featured you in conversation with Ava DuVernay and Oprah — does it disappoint you that Oprah isn’t more skeptical of Trump?
Well, she didn’t speak out one way or the other about Trump. And I think that someone of her stature is wise to withhold judgment until he’s been sworn in and we can see some actual facts. People who are in the political arena, we have to take sides early and, hopefully, learn as we go. But I don’t think someone of her stature needs to weigh in at this point. He hasn’t even been sworn in yet.
If you were in Congress, would you decline to attend the inauguration?
A bunch of Republican Congresspeople went to neither of the Obama inaugurations. And it was written about, but nobody made a big deal about it, because it’s no fun going to the other party’s inauguration.
So, would I go to the inauguration? I would probably do something else. Not necessarily as some great statement, but just because, what a bummer it would have to be to sit there in the cold watching this guy get sworn in after all the terrible stuff he did on the campaign trail.
But, listen, this is common. It’s entirely common. I didn’t see a big parade of Republicans rushing down to fill up the seats at Obama’s inauguration, either.
When watching CNN, I can’t help but think that there are a bunch of smart journalists who sometimes bite their tongue when they’re “hearing the other side” from someone who is clearly spinning. What do you think about that?
People come on TV and they lie — you can call it spin — they lie for their own side all the time. It’s journalists’ job to call them out. It’s certainly the role of the opposing political view to call them out. But you do have to let people have their say.
I think sometimes people expect some large horn to go off and prevent the person from saying whatever ridiculous nonsense they’re saying. That’s not how it works. People do get a chance to give their point a view, whether it’s based in fact or not, on either side. And they deserve a full hearing and then they deserve a fair rebuttal or refutation sometimes.
I can’t imagine — how else would we do it? Somebody says something that we think is false, and we just cut the mic?
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