"CNN’s presidential town halls are a newly viral addition to the 'did you watch that?' industrial complex," says Clare Malone. "There have already been 20 of these events, and most of the Democratic candidates who have said they’re running in 2020 have been featured. Started during the 2016 presidential primary cycle, the formula is simple: plug a candidate into a prime time (ish) slot, fill the room with likely voters armed with questions to read off of index cards, and make sure that a CNN anchor is on stage to keep everyone (relatively) honest. The questioners are polite and earnest — it’s not really a venue for heated follow-up — and candidates get the opportunity to perform empathetic conversation. They nod, repeat the name of the questioner, and then typically launch into a portion of their stump speech on any given topic. If the candidate has dodged a voter’s question, the CNN anchor often follows up with more pointed questions. In these town halls, CNN has created a kind of petri dish for news at a time when candidates aren’t otherwise doing all that much that’s considered newsworthy. They haven’t radically reshaped the campaign, but they have given it some useful plot points."