On Sunday morning, Rudy Giuliani, as he so reliably will, made news on cable news: Appearing on the CNN show State of the Union, the president’s lawyer turned surrogate told Jake Tapper that—despite the Mueller report having found insufficient evidence to conclude that the Trump campaign had colluded with a hostile power in the run-up to 2016—there’s “nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” The revealing goal-post displacement got as much attention as you’d expect, and that meant that something else got attention as well, as video of Giuliani’s comment pinged around the internet: the April 22 event that CNN has been advertising, in recent days, with gladiatorial gusto. “CNN PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALLS: TOMORROW,” went the chyron underneath the viral “Giuliani: ‘Nothing Wrong’ With Getting Info From Russians” clip. The graphic helpfully informed viewers about the timing of that event: back-to-back town halls featuring Amy Klobuchar (at 7 p.m. ET), Elizabeth Warren (8 p.m.), Bernie Sanders (9 p.m.), Kamala Harris (10 p.m.), and Pete Buttigieg (11 p.m.). The coverage, CNN’s chyron promised at one point, via a countdown clock aired later on Sunday, is “25 HRS 45 MIN 20 SEC” away.
It wasn’t that long ago that cultural critics worried about TV’s way of turning politics into a form of amusement, coining terms such as infotainment and media events to convey anxieties about what happens when the high stakes of politics collide with the low ones of daily distraction. Those days seem quaint now, and they seem quainter still when CNN spends weeks plugging the quintuple-header that it is hosting on Monday in conjunction with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. Town halls, merging the intimacies of direct democracy with the implied distance of the TV screen, are throwback events that also neatly capture some of the tensions of politics as they’re practiced in the present: They marry versions of policy wonkery—discussions of health care, immigration, education, gun safety—with the primary-colored flashiness of cable news. And they tangle the promises of American politics with the demands of American celebrity.