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Ap-poll-ing!: Media celebrate their own failings

By Daniel Clark
web posted February 6, 2006

If a study you had commissioned revealed that you were failing to do your job, would you trumpet the results for all the world to hear? You would if you were the editor of a liberal newspaper.

In its January 27th cover story, USA Today celebrated its own Gallup poll results, which it buttressed with selective anecdotal evidence, showing that 62 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Naturally, the paper took this prefabricated story to mean that President Bush is in deep trouble. It should instead have taken it as an indication of its own failure to accurately inform the American public.

Those 633 of 1,006 respondents who had said that things were going badly were subsequently asked, "In the past five years, in what way have things gotten worse?" The leading answer was "Situation in Iraq." It would have been amusing to hear somebody ask these same people to describe what the situation there had been, before we supposedly screwed it up.

Five years ago, Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq, where he was training foreign terrorists, funding suicide bombers, viciously murdering and torturing his own citizens, firing on American and British aircraft, undermining UN sanctions through a system of smuggling and bribery, and continuing to deny entry to the weapons inspectors he'd banished in 1998. Fast forward to today: Saddam sits in prison a depressed and broken man, awaiting his inevitable conviction and execution, while his former victims establish a legitimate representative government.

Nobody who shares the best interests of the United States and the rest of the free world can possibly think that the situation in Iraq has gotten worse between then and now. Not unless he's been listening to USA Today and the rest of the liberal media, that is. In the section of the article entitled "War in Iraq," the lone interviewee offers the utterly thoughtless opinion that, "It's turning into our Vietnam," a line the editor couldn't resist using as a pull quote. The only other person in the article who makes any statement about the war says, "I don't see the point in Iraq, when there were other countries going through worse atrocities and we did nothing to help them." To a passive reader, that settles it. The war in Iraq was a mistake, by a vote of 2-0.

According to the poll, the second-worst aspect of America over the past five years has been the economy. Only 35 percent of respondents said that the economy was getting better, while 54 percent claimed it was getting worse, with another 7 percent thinking it had gone basically unchanged. These results are so completely detached from reality that, if they are presumed to be an accurate measurement of public opinion, they ought to cause the national media to seriously reevaluate their competence in delivering the news.

Five years ago, we were just heading into a mild recession, which lasted for the first three quarters of 2001. Since then, we've had seventeen consecutive quarters of strong economic growth. The Democrats, and therefore the news media, tried to turn this into an anti-Bush campaign issue in 2004. Their spin was that it was a "jobless recovery," because employment figures, typically a lagging indicator, had not yet caught up with all the economic good news.

By now, however, the unemployment rate has dropped to a four and a half year low of 4.7 percent, a level that the papers would describe as "full employment" if a Democrat were in the White House. Since the last presidential election, our economy has added about 2.36 million jobs. Even counting the job losses from the recession, we're still more than 2 million ahead of where we were when Bush was sworn in. Over the past five years, we've gone from a recession to the kind of economic situation which, during the Clinton administration, was regularly described in supposedly objective news stories as a "boom." Yet the media seem completely undisturbed by their failure to convey this to a majority of news consumers.

If these polling results did not coincide with the media's political biases, they would certainly have triggered some degree of self-examination. For example, you might remember a Washington Post poll taken in 2003, which said that 69 percent of respondents found it likely that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9-11 attacks. The reason you might remember this is because of the media's collective eruption of indignation. Not only did news articles about that poll state that the respondents' belief was unsubstantiated, but reporters also asked Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to refute the poll's results. Some articles even charged that Bush had deceived people into making the link (subliminably, don't you know), by mentioning Saddam Hussein and 9-11 during the same speeches.

Clearly, the media felt a responsibility to correct that particular misperception, but their duty to the truth is conveniently absent when the ill-informed poll respondents are rebuking a Republican president. In this most recent case, no judgments are being made about the veracity of the responses. Nobody is asking Alan Greenspan to contradict the poll's conclusion that economy is headed in the wrong direction. Nor is anyone referencing polls taken among the Iraqi people, to find out whether they agree with the assertion that the situation in their country has gotten worse in the last five years.

When the result of a poll supports the prejudices of the media, it is reported as if it were some sort of royal proclamation. The people have spoken, and that's final. By reporting its own poll as "news," USA Today can justify transferring its opinion to the front page as if it were an objective story, under the headline, "State of the Union? 'Going the wrong way'."

Note the lack of attribution for that statement. That's a dead giveaway that the opinion it relates is shared by the editor. When reporting on a poll result with which they disagree, like Hillary Clinton's high negative ratings, newspapers will never write a headline like, "Hillary Clinton? 'Downright repellant'."

What's more, the press generally polls even worse than politicians do, but don't hold your breath waiting to read, "The news media? 'Arrogant and untrustworthy'." Like our booming economy and our success in Iraq, that's a fact they'd prefer not to recognize.

Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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