By Hannah Sparks
An upcoming CNN town hall on the coronavirus pandemic will feature 17-year-old Greta Thunberg alongside a panel of medical experts.
The program, “Coronavirus Facts and Fears,” also includes CNN broadcaster Sanjay Gupta, 50, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 71, and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Richard Besser, 60. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, 52, will host alongside Gupta.
However, social media watchdogs are foaming at the mouth over the choice to place a teen climate activist on a panel with public health experts.
“What place does Greta Thunberg have in this town hall?” asks Twitter rabble-rouser Yashar Ali to his 618,000 followers. His rhetorical question was liked by more than 12,000 since this morning.
Her name is a top trending term on Twitter, with some 30,000 mentions on the platform in just a few hours.
In a follow-up tweet, Ali clarified his rhetorical tweet with an explanation: “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’s not a climate scientist. It’s a matter of placement.”
Former acting CDC director Richard Besser, former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius and activist Greta Thunberg join @AndersonCooper & @DrSanjayGupta for a live #CNNTownHall. Coronavirus – Facts and Fears, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET pic.twitter.com/I4FrXgwaL6— CNN (@CNN) May 13, 2020
CNN’s social media was soon served with an onslaught of virtual eye-rolls.
“Greta Thunberg? Now, she’s a COVID expert? @CNN is a joke!” reads a top response to the network’s Wednesday announcement.
“Not picking on the kid,” said another. “Picking on a ‘news’ network for featuring a child to inform the public.”
“I remember when my thread about E. coli in Romaine lettuce went viral and trended on Twitter only to have CNN put Food Babe on the air to discuss the issue,” tweeted Dr. Eugene Gu, referring to another controversial health “expert” in the media. “Greta Thunberg on this panel is an improvement from that at least.”
Some have come to Thunberg’s defense, including more than a few public figures, arguing that the voice of youth, who will come to inherit an Earth doomed by future pandemics and climate disaster, may actually have something to add to the conversation.
“Unqualified men appear on cable all day every day, bloviating endlessly, but Greta Thunberg is a bridge too far? Ok,” tweeted writer Roxane Gay.
“She’s has extraordinary knowledge and she is the next generation that is left to clean this mess we’ve made. They wouldn’t have her there if she wasn’t a powerful voice,” wrote Oscar-winning actor Patricia Arquette.
“It’s a town hall, not a meeting of scientists,” another follower noted. “Some of their previous guests have been chef Jose Andres, director Spike Lee, author Laurie Garrett, etc etc.”
Thunberg has, perhaps wisely, been mum throughout this erupting social-media showdown. But she hasn’t spent the past three months lounging in lockdown. On April 30, UNICEF said the young activist had launched a children-first campaign to help protect young lives against COVID-19, pledging a grant of €92,000 ($100,000), awarded to her by Danish NGO Human Act, toward the effort.
“Like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child-rights crisis,” said Thunberg. “It will affect all children, now and in the long-term, but vulnerable groups will be impacted the most. I’m asking everyone to step up and join me in support of UNICEF’s vital work to save children’s lives, to protect health and continue education.”