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Internet outrage ensued over a CNN advertisement for a town hall program about the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic, which aired on May 14, 2020. The outrage was focused on CNN’s booking of 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, with criticism falsely characterizing her appearance as being that of an “expert panelist.”
Adding to the confusion, a number of news publications ran with the same false narrative. “Greta Thunberg added to CNN’s expert coronavirus panel, Twitter erupts,” read a New York Post headline. “Greta Thunberg Isn’t a Coronavirus Expert,” Reason.com reasoned.
It’s true that Thunberg was a guest on the May 14 show, but she wasn’t the only non-medical expert interviewed. Other guests interviewed remotely included Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who talked about ongoing negotiations with players amid a canceled season, and a private citizen, Neal Browning, who volunteered to participate in COVID-19 vaccine testing.
Like the others, Thunberg spoke on a topic she was knowledgeable about, namely her effort to help raise money for the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is working to support children impacted by the pandemic. Her CNN appearance can be viewed below.
On Twitter she addressed the criticism of her appearance on CNN, saying, “It seems some people thought I was going to be on an expert panel, which of course has never been the case.”
Town hall co-host Anderson Cooper weighed in on the controversy after Thunberg’s appearance, calling it a “surreal, absurd drama.” He noted that various promotions aired for both the show Thunberg appeared on and for previous town halls in the coronavirus series, which featured the likes of Manfred, singer Alicia Keys, chef Jose Andres, and film director Spike Lee as individual interviewees, not as panelists. Cooper opined that the Twitter circus was more about producing content “lest you miss out on a cycle of phony outrage” than it was about actual concern over Thunberg’s appearance on the show.
Because Thunberg was brought on CNN to discuss her efforts as a children’s activist and her support for UNICEF, but was not there to play the role of a medical expert, we rate the claim that Thunberg was an “expert panelist” on CNN’s coronavirus town hall as “Mixture.”