In Defense of The Des Moines Register

Posted: December 13, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

The Des Moines Register has become the unfortunate victim of many recent attacks by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Register found itself on Trump’s bullseye ever since publishing an editorial in July that called for him to drop out of the presidential race. Since then, Trump has developed distaste for the publication and, in true Trump fashion, he has not been shy about making it known.

This past Friday, Trump hosted a town hall at the Iowa State Fair grounds. Amid his downpour of fiery insults were some special ones reserved for The Des Moines Register and its chief politics reporter, Jennifer Jacobs. (Fast-forward to the 53-minute mark in the video below for his full remarks.)

“You have one of the most dishonest [press outlets] right here in your backyard,” Trump spat, “The Des Moines Register is the worst.” Trump’s supporters erupted into one of the most enthusiastic applauses of the evening, prompting Trump to continue his berating. “You know it’s funny. Every time The Des Moines Register does a poll, I always do badly…It’s my opinion that they don’t do [polling] properly,” Trump claimed, going on to suggest that The Register employs ethically dishonest tactics in their polling in order to ensure Trump’s numbers appear lower than they are.

It’s startling (to put it nicely) to see a candidate speak so candidly about The Des Moines Register — an outlet that has been a steadfast institution in the Iowa caucuses since their infancy. For nearly a century, The Register has played a key role in reporting national news from an Iowa position, and it has been praised countless times for the quality with which it does so. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just consider that The Register has won 16 Pulitzer Prizes in its rich history, including three for editorial writing.

The Iowa Poll, run by The Des Moines Register, is conducted by Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Company. Selzer has been acclaimed as one of the most talented and accurate pollsters in the business, and her company has even received an A+ accuracy rating from FiveThirtyEight’s Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver — one of only three companies to do so. The Iowa Poll has proved time and time again its ability to accurately depict the political atmosphere surrounding the Iowa caucuses and it has a long history of ethical legitimacy to back up those results.

The most recent Iowa Poll has Sen. Ted Cruz leading Trump by 10 points seven weeks out from the Iowa caucuses. For Trump and his supporters, this drop in numbers can be attributed (at least partially) to the Iowa Poll’s supposed “ethical biases.” I understand that this excuse may serve as an emotional crutch for the Trump campaign and its supporters, but targeting the legitimacy of an institution like The Des Moines Register is grasping at air.


Donald Trump speaks to a crowd in Des Moines on the evening of Dec. 11. Photo by Bri Steirer.

Perhaps the most disturbing part about Trump’s continuous attacks on The Register and other supposedly “dishonest” media organizations is his supporters’ enthusiastic willingness to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Media organizations like The Des Moines Register are important sources of rich information surrounding policy issues, candidate platforms, and the presidential election process. By discrediting any news outlet that reports dissatisfactory poll numbers or introduces opposing views, Trump reinforces his supporters’ beliefs in and loyalty to his destructive agenda. Trump supporters, turned off by the proposed “dishonesty” of The Register, refuse to engage with voices of dissent or possible issues with their candidate’s platform — effectively isolating themselves in an information bubble that only Trump-approved propaganda can penetrate.

This is not to say that all candidates and campaigns should swear allegiance to The Register or the Iowa Poll. Like all polls, it cannot 100 percent accurately depict voters’ views on policy issues and candidates. However, there is a lot to be said about a candidate that attacks an award-winning, ethically-sound Iowan institution like The Des Moines Register simply because he is unhappy with the results. To be crass, it is reminiscent of an entitled child that flips the Monopoly board when he or she starts to lose.

There is a simple way to respond to slipping poll numbers: Do something about it. If there are truly a “silent majority” supporting Trump’s campaign, wake them up; make them talk. Discrediting a news outlet like The Des Moines Register is not only a cowardly move, but it detriments the entire democratic process. In Iowa, we pride ourselves on vetting the most qualified candidates — the individuals on both sides of the aisle that we feel best reflect our heartland values. When a candidate isolates his or her supporters from engaging in this discourse that is so fundamental to the legitimacy of our presidential election process, no real democratic values can be maintained within that sphere.

Mr. Trump — and any candidate that engages in this embarrassing practice — I call on you to seriously consider the content of our American values and then reflect on your own decision to throw those values to the wind.

IMG_1220Steirer is a senior politics, rhetoric, and law politics and society triple major. She enjoys reading/writing feminist rants on social media, political satire and the Green Bay Packers. Follow her on Twitter.