CNN is having another coronavirus town hall this Thursday hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The scheduled guests include the former acting director of the CDC, Richard Besser, the former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (both from the Obama administration) and teen-climate-scold Greta Thunberg. What expertise does a teenager who hasn’t finished high school have to offer on a global pandemic? It’s a fair question.

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1260588233877905408

It really does seem like a stretch.

CNN’s Oliver Darcy offered an explanation for why Thunberg had been invited on the panel. Last month she made a donation to Unicef for children impacted by the coronavirus:

So, according to Darcy, she’s not being invited on as an medical expert, just as a “special guest.” Of course, Sebelius and Besser are also listed as “special guests” so it still seems like an odd choice to round out the panel.

Unicef created this donation page for Thunberg’s new project which has the unwieldy title “Let’s move humanity for children in the fight against coronavirus.” Forgive me for saying so, but it sounds as if she is in fact being positioned as a kind of activist/expert on the impact of the coronavirus on children. Here’s a quote from Thunberg featured on the page:

Like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child-rights crisis. 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.

Here’s a related video in which Thunberg explains her new funding campaign.

I’m guessing that, or something very much like it, is what we’re going to hear from Thunberg during the CNN town hall. CNN may not be presenting her as a “medical expert” but they are asking viewers to treat her as an expert on the impact of the virus and as someone to emulate on the proper response.

But I think the real issue here isn’t expertise so much as name recognition. Unicef is asking for donations of $1.6 billion and Thunberg has volunteered to put her star-power behind it. CNN is happy to have her on as a famous face to punch up its town hall special guest list. I mean, who is really tuning in to hear from Kathleen Sebelius? How many Americans could identify Sebelius out of a line up? Not many I suspect, but a lot more would recognize Thunberg.

This isn’t the first time CNN’s coronavirus town halls have featured people who were basically there because they are famous faces. The last one featured Al Gore and director Spike Lee.

Before that CNN did a town hall in April featuring Alicia Keys:

Bottom line: CNN will drag anyone onto these very special after-school coronavirus specials if they think it might help the ratings. Greta Thunberg, for better or worse, is pretty famous. Here’s the CNN promo for tomorrow night’s town hall: