President Donald Trump has verbally attacked CNN on innumerable occasions since he began running for office in 2015, but his reelection campaign’s new cease-and-desist letter to the network was unprecedented, CNN said in a Wednesday statement.
The president’s reelection campaign sent the legal threat to CNN president Jeff Zucker on Tuesday regarding CNN’s June 8 poll that showed Trump trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by 14 points. The poll stated that Biden, at 55 percent, was leading Trump, who was at 41 percent, and also noted that Trump’s approval rating was 38 percent, his lowest mark since January 2019. The poll included 1,259 respondents, 32 percent of which identified as Democrats. Twenty-five percent of respondents identified as Republicans while 44 percent of respondents identified themselves as independents or members of another political party.
The cease-and-desist, from Republican polling firm McLaughlin & Associates and signed by Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis and chief operating officer Michael Glassner, argued that CNN’s poll was a “stunt,” “phony,” and was designed to harm the president’s reelection campaign. It demanded that CNN retract the poll and publish an apology and correction. It also warned that CNN’s failure to comply could result in “severe sanctions imposed by a court,” including monetary sanctions.
David Vigilante, CNN’s executive vice president and general counsel, published a public response to the cease-and-desist on Wednesday afternoon. Vigilante referred to the cease-and-desist as “factually and legally baseless” and rejected its demands in their entirety.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time in its 40-year history that CNN had been threatened with legal action because an American politician or campaign did not like CNN’s polling results,” Vigilante said in the letter. “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.”
CNN’s report on the issue noted that the cease-and-desist contained several incorrect and misleading claims, including a point about the number of poll respondents who answered the question regarding which presidential candidate they would vote for.
While a United States president sending a cease-and-desist to a news organization over a poll is unprecedented — Trump’s campaign sued CNN for libel in March over an opinion column — Trump’s decision was the latest in the president’s lengthy string of attacks toward CNN. Trump has insulted CNN’s reporters, as well as journalists at other outlets, as “fake news” on numerous occasions and briefly revoked CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials in 2018. Trump retweeted an edited WWE video of him tackling and beating a man with the CNN logo over his face in July 2017.
Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones told IndieWire in a recent interview that Trump’s long-running attacks on the news media were eroding the public’s trust in journalism and could be factor in the number of journalists who have been attacked or arrested by law enforcement officers over the last few weeks.
Although Trump frequently insults or threatens journalism organizations, the president has occasionally turned his anger toward other sources when presented with unflattering information about his presidency. The New York Times reported in April that Trump had threatened to sue Brad Parsacle, his own campaign manager, after the president had seen unfavorable presidential election polling data.
Though Biden has performed better than Trump in a handful of recent polls, polling does not always accurately predict the outcome of political races. Trump defeated Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election despite the vast majority of polls predicting that Clinton would win.