Update: On Thursday, Greta Thunberg addressed backlash over her role on an upcoming CNN panel in a Twitter thread. "I am not an expert. I am an activist. The only people claiming that I’m an “expert” are those who are trying to ridicule me," Thunberg wrote. "My message has always been to unite behind the science and listen to the experts." She also said that she would be joining the panel to discuss a new UNICEF campaign and how activism has changed during the coronavirus outbreak.
This story was originally published on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.
On Wednesday, CNN announced the lineup for its next Coronavirus: Facts and Fears town hall program set to air Thursday night. Hosts Anderson Cooper, anchor of AC 360, and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will speak with former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Richard Besser, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and climate change activist Greta Thunberg. However, shortly after the lineup was announced, Twitter users took aim at Thunberg, questioning her qualifications for the series.
“What place does Greta Thunberg have in this town hall?” questioned journalist Yashar Ali, with a photo of Thunberg beside the rest of the town hall lineup. He replied to multiple responses noting that Thunberg is a prominent climate change activist with the same message, writing, “I understand that but this is a panel of top health experts and administrators. A climate activist would be better suited on a different panel. She is not a climate scientist. It’s a matter of placement.”
As a result of this, Thunberg's name began trending on Twitter, with many users taking issue with her role on a panel that mainly features health experts. The theme among those criticizing CNN's inclusion of Thunberg had to do with the specific program she would be featured on.
However, since the program launched in late February, Coronavirus: Facts and Fears, has invited filmmaker Spike Lee, chef Jose Andres, and former Vice President Al Gore – as well as a host of medical experts – to speak to elements factoring into the overall effects of the pandemic as it pertains to their areas of expertise.
Gupta hosts a similar podcast called Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction where he has also spoken to business magnate Bill Gates, investor Bill Ackman, retired astronaut Scott Kelly, and others ranging from religious leaders to parents raising children in quarantine to offer insight and perspective. All of these experts have offered their own take on COVID-19 and how it has drastically altered how they and others live life and plan for the future. By those accounts, Thunberg — who has shaken the world with her Fridays For Future walkouts and her galvanizing United Nations address — is in good company among past CNN commentators.
In response to the criticism, many prominent pundits tweeted their support of Thunberg and her seat on this week’s panel. “Unqualified men appear on cable all day every day, bloviating endlessly, but Greta Thunberg is a bridge too far? Ok,” tweeted author Roxane Gay.
CNN has not announced the talking points of Thursday’s town hall, but they have also not suggested that either Cooper or Gupta will be asking Thunberg questions that require medical expertise, and will likely consult her on the impacts COVID-19 has had on climate change and sustainability.