Donald Trump demands CNN retract 'phony' poll that shows him trailing Joe Biden by 14 percentage points

In an unusual cease-and-desist letter, the Donald Trump campaign called on CNN to retract and apologise for a national poll this week that showed the president trailing his Democratic opponent, former vice-president Joe Biden, by 14 percentage points among registered voters

The New York Times June 11, 2020 07:45:38 IST
Donald Trump demands CNN retract 'phony' poll that shows him trailing Joe Biden by 14 percentage points

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has sued several news outlets for coverage it deemed unflattering.

On Wednesday, the president’s team added a new wrinkle to its media intimidation tactics: Demanding that a TV network retract a poll it did not like.

In an unusual cease-and-desist letter, the Trump campaign called on CNN to retract and apologise for a national poll this week that showed the president trailing his Democratic opponent, former vice-president Joe Biden, by 14 percentage points among registered voters.

Trump’s aides called the poll “phony” and “a stunt,” accusing CNN without evidence of trying to “stifle momentum and enthusiasm for the president and present a false view generally of the actual support across America for the president.”

CNN, like other major news outlets, uses a third-party polling firm to conduct opinion surveys. In a bracing riposte, the network’s general counsel, David Vigilante, rejected the Trump campaign’s request.

“To the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media,” Vigilante wrote. He added: “Your letter is factually and legally baseless. It is yet another bad faith attempt by the campaign to threaten litigation to muzzle speech it does not want voters to read or hear.”

Donald Trump demands CNN retract phony poll that shows him trailing Joe Biden by 14 percentage points

Donald Trump speaks while surrounded by African-American supporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. By Doug Mills © 2020 The New York Times

The exchange evoked the “unskewed polls” episode of the 2012 presidential campaign, when supporters of Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, insisted that surveys showing a healthy lead for then-president Barack Obama were inaccurate and influenced by liberal bias. Romney went on to lose.

But Trump’s demonisation of the news media has been more relentless and widespread than anything unleashed by the Romney team. His campaign has sued The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other organisations, raising alarms among First Amendment advocates that the lawsuits could deter journalists from pursuing tough reporting.

The legal threat against CNN coincided with a highly unusual dynamic unfolding in recent weeks between Trump and One America News, a conservative cable network that the president has latched onto for its obvious pro-Trump viewpoint.

On Tuesday, Trump advanced a baseless theory that a 75-year-old man in Buffalo who was knocked to the ground by the police and hospitalised was “an ANTIFA provocateur,” a notion the president learned about from a segment on One America News.

Even the president’s allies questioned the sense of insulting an injured septuagenarian. But Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said on Wednesday that he was merely “raising some questions, some legitimate ones.”

On Wednesday, the chief executive of One America News, Robert Herring, offered an overture to the White House. Shortly after the Trump campaign contacted CNN, Herring wrote on Twitter that his network would be publishing a voter survey that Trump might find more palatable.

“@OANN will be releasing a poll concerning the 2020 presidential race,” Herring wrote on Twitter. “It looks as though it will be in favor of @realDonaldTrump.”

A spokeswoman for One America News, Krista McClelland, said the network would broadcast results from a poll of Florida residents. She said the network “uses a third-party polling service” but did not specify which one.

In its letter to CNN, the Trump campaign said that one of its own polling firms, McLaughlin and Associates, had found the CNN poll to be “skewed.”

The firm’s leader, John McLaughlin, is a trusted voice for Trump who helped him explore a possible presidential bid in 2011. McLaughlin later worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign and is one of two pollsters currently working for the president’s 2020 reelection effort.

McLaughlin has been criticised for generating results that are at odds with other mainstream pollsters. In 2014, he projected that the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, would handily defeat a Tea Party rival, David Brat, by a wide margin; Cantor lost his seat by 11 points.

In teasing its own poll, One America News was inviting Trump to further promote the network’s coverage — a boon for a relatively obscure cable channel whose audience remains minuscule despite the president’s support.

Trump has repeatedly tried to raise the profile of One America News, lauding its coverage on social media and at public appearances, in part as a pressure tactic to influence his coverage on Fox News.

But One America News is available in only one-third as many households as Fox News, and its ratings and web traffic are a small fraction of rival media outlets that appeal to conservative audiences.

Michael M Grynbaum and Maggie Haberman c.2020 The New York Times Company

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