The network, which is owned by Zaslav’s media giant, has faced intense backlash for scheduling the appearance.
“The US has a divided government. We need to hear both voices,” Zaslav told CNBC’s Squawk Box on Friday (5 May).
“Republicans are on the air on CNN, Democrats are on the air… When we do politics, we need to represent both sides. I think it’s important for America.”
Zaslav continued on Trump: “He’s the front-runner – he has to be on our network. We’re happy he’s coming on there.”
“This is a new CNN,” the CEO added. “I’m proud of CNN, we’re on a great journey and this country needs it.”
The move to include Trump in its coverage is seen as a move from both the network and the presidential candidate to boost ratings.
During his presidency, Trump repeatedly criticised CNN as “fake news” – he has not appeared on the network since 2016.
“I find it very hard to defend the choice to give him a live platform, no matter how it is dressed up,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on Wednesday (3 May) about his competitor’s decision.
“If he is given live airtime, there is no way to know if he will do something like, I don’t know, give out the personal information about the DA? Something that, once said on a live broadcast, cannot be unsaid and undone.”
Meanwhile, on ABC’s chat show The View, co-host Sunny Hostin said she was “disgusted” by the move.
“When someone shows you who they are, you believe them. When you show that you are an insurrectionist, that you’re a liar, that you’re a bigot, that you’re a racist. That you’re sexist. That you’re twice impeached. That you are currently a criminal defendant and likely to be a criminal defendant in two other jurisdictions… I know everything I need to know about you.”
She added: “You don’t give that kind of person a platform.”
CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins will moderate the town hall with Trump on 10 May from 9pm ET from St Anselm College in New Hampshire.
A spokesperson said in a statement that CNN “has a longstanding tradition of hosting leading presidential candidates for Town Halls and political events as a critical component of the network’s robust campaign coverage”.
“This event with former president Trump will be the first of many for CNN in the coming months as CNN correspondents travel across the country to hear directly from voters in the runup to the 2024 presidential election.”
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