Trump’s Latest Press Attack: The Media Accountability Survey

If the mainstream media thought President Trump was going to leave his demonization of their profession to press conferences and rallies, last Thursday must have been a rude awakening.

Following a February 16 press conference where the President spent a significant amount of time taking shots at the journalists in attendance and the industry as a whole, his White House and the Republican National Committee released a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” designed to provide Trump with some statistical ammunition in his ongoing war against journalists.

The survey, sent to anyone on Trump’s email list, contains 25 leading questions devised to prove Trump’s points about media dishonesty. The first question asks: “Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?”

Sarah Sanders Huckabee, White House deputy press secretary and daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told MediaFile that the survey was a product of “the campaign” and “you will need to ask [campaign officials]” about its inception and intentions.

The RNC did not return a request for comment on the survey.

This survey is making some media types with decades of journalistic experience nervous about Trump’s plan for the press over the next four years.

“It continues the descent of the Trump administration into complete disaster for the media,” Adrianne Flynn, the internship and career development coordinator at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism school, told MediaFile. “I think what he’s trying to do with this survey and some other things is to so discredit and demonize the media so that we become completely untrustworthy.”

Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington Bureau chief, told MediaFile he was “not surprised” but “horrified” nonetheless at the survey. He said that criticizing media practices is healthy and allows the industry to learn and grow, but what Trump is doing goes far beyond that.

“I would encourage the administration to embrace questions about media coverage and insist on fairness and accuracy,” said Sesno, who is also the director of The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. “It’s not acceptable to paint a free and open and critical and skeptical press as an enemy of this country.”

Both Flynn and Sesno said the survey was similar to a push poll, a type of data-gathering exercise with the express purpose of manipulating voters with loaded questions. The difference between that and the survey, they point out, is the lack of scientific etiquette.

Most polls or surveys seeking to gain information with real-world applications randomize who participates in order to ensure a representative sampling. Trump’s survey was sent out purely to those already on his mailing list, the vast majority of who support his agenda and view of the mainstream media.

“This is not a scientific survey that is meant to gain information,” Sesno said. “This is a propaganda exercise that is meant to cook the books and try to show just how angry people are toward the media … These are actually meaningless numbers, and they will be used merely for the sake of argument.”

Flynn, who spent years as a politics and public policy reporter in four states, is worried the survey and other diversions devised by the administration are attempts to distract from bigger issues plaguing his administration.

“I think it’s absolutely concerted,” she said. “And I think it’s absolutely a campaign to both distract the media and allow his public policy agenda to go forward with limited scrutiny.”

She also is not a fan of the liberals who have filled out the survey in order to skew the results, something Trump himself pointed out in a follow-up email to his supporters.

“Do you put your name on the list that allows Trump to have a list of people who seemingly oppose his anti-media agenda?” Flynn asked (the survey requires respondents to provide their names and emails). “Or do you further his belief that the media is creating fake news by putting a fake name and email at the bottom? It’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Sesno and Flynn are both troubled that Trump’s portrayal of the press as liars and enemies of the republic are dangerous, in more disturbing ways than just breeding industry distrust.

“You can have very bad things happen if people take cues and start to believe this is not a necessary adversarial relationship and this is one of enemies,” Sesno said. “You take actions against enemies; you don’t take actions against respected adversaries.”

Flynn took that idea one step further:

“If you keep after this, eventually the next step after criticism, taking names, demonizing is to start arresting people, rounding them up and putting them in jail.”

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