CNN Sends Cease-and-Desist Letter to Trump Re-election Campaign Concerning a Misleading Commercial

By A.J. Katz 

The legal battles between CNN and President Trump continue. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, the network’s parent company WarnerMedia has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump’s re-election campaign over a re-election campaign ad.

The commercial, “American Comeback,” seemingly takes a segment from the March 30 broadcast of CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer out of context. On the broadcast, Blitzer asked Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “Well, is it accurate that if these steps had not been put in place, the stay at home orders, the social distancing orders, as the president said yesterday, it could have been 2 million people down here in the United States?”

Gupta responded, “I mean, you know, these are all models, Wolf. It’s a little tough to say, but, you know, if you talk about something that is spreading, you know, very robustly throughout a community. You know, two to three times more contagious than flu, and up to 10 times, perhaps even more than that, more deadly than flu, then yes.”


Blitzer’s question was about “stay at home orders” and social distancing, but in the campaign commercial, that portion of his question was not included. After Blitzer and Gupta are shown on screen, the ad cuts to taped video that invokes Trump’s restrictions on travel from China, like an airport screen showing cancelled flights.

Blitzer is heard on the broadcast asking, “Is it accurate that if these steps had not been put in place … it could’ve been 2 million people dead here in the United States?” And Gupta is heard saying, “yes.”

WarnerMedia associate general counsel Rick D. McMurtry writes in the cease-and-desist letter to the campaign: “The advertisement purposely and deceptively edits the clip to imply that Mr. [Wolf] Blitzer and Dr. [Sanjay] Gupta were crediting the President’s travel ban policy issued in January for saving millions of American lives, when in fact Mr. Blitzer and Dr. Gupta were discussing recently implemented social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders issued by state and local governments.

“CNN hereby demands that you discontinue airing the advertisement with the CNN clip that has been distorted in such a way as to mislead the public,” he wrote.

CNN has also wrote the campaign’s ad agency, Harris Sikes Media, to demand the ad “be edited to remove or correct the misuse.”

In a statement to Stelter concerning the letter, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh: “No discussion of efforts to prevent American deaths from the coronavirus can be had without the understanding that President Trump restricted travel from China in January. Based on that alone, the ad is accurate.”

The ad debuted on Sunday night. The campaign says it is spending “mid-seven figures” to run the spot on cable and broadcast television outlets.