Monday, May 5, 2008

Lies of the Times

I was in the shower at 5:30 this morning and turned on my Sony Shower radio (they have really good AM tuners, by the way) to hear the all-news station in Boston running through the headlines. The big story? Barack's campaign for the presidency hasn't been impacted by the Wright scandal.

Where would they get such a stupid idea? From the New York Times, of course. In a story entitled "Poll Shows Most Voters Unaffected by Wright," the Times says:
The poll, conducted after Mr. Obama held a news conference on Tuesday in which he renounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., for making incendiary comments, found that most Americans said they approved of the way Mr. Obama had responded to the episode and considered his criticism of Mr. Wright appropriate.
The Times knows the effect of a headline like that, and of sentences like "most Americans said they approved of the way Mr. Obama had responded..." The paper is well aware that when absorbed casually, the story will be perceived as meaning that Barack has dodged the bullet. This is obviously untrue.

Why is the Times so eager to make such a bad situation look harmless to Barack? You'll have to decide. Ask yourself why it would be good news for Barack that "most Americans" like the way he responded to the Wright situation. The flip side of those numbers shows the real problem for Barack:
...nearly half of the voters surveyed, and a substantial part of the Democrats, said Mr. Obama had acted mainly because he thought it would help him politically, rather than because he had serious disagreements with his former pastor.
Now there's a tragedy for Barack that you could build a headline around. The man who wants to change the way Washington does business is perceived by half of the electorate as doing business as usual. By the way, a recent Fox News Poll showed that number at 58%.

But does that mean the Times lied? Depends on how you define it. If a lie is the failure to convey the truth when the truth is known, then yes. It's a deliberate misrepresentation of reality by using facts.

And by the way, the facts are based on bad science, bad science that was paid for by the Times.

The most important phrase in the story comes rather far in, and it stands alone with no supporting context:
The survey of 601 registered voters was conducted between Thursday night and Saturday night.
The key phrase is registered voters. Registered voters. Sounds good, doesn't it? Activist Americans are ones who register, right? Sorry, no.

Roughly half of registered voters show up for hotly contested primaries like tomorrow in North Carolina and Indiana. Which means half of the people voting in the Times poll wouldn't go to the polls to vote. Which means their disengaged, uninformed opinions are tilting the poll. Any reliable poll will spend some time with each voter asking questions designed to determine with a high level of probability whether they are likely to vote. This poll is garbage.

The Times did included this bizarre sentence in the story:
The relatively small number of Democrats surveyed limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the poll’s findings regarding sentiment within the party. Moreover, as a national poll, it does not necessarily reflect the thoughts of voters in Indiana and North Carolina.
In other words, this worthless poll of registered voters is statistically invalid to begin with because the survey samples are too small. One big "Never mind!" from the Times, after the damage is done.

Still, the poor quality of the poll doesn't mean it fails to contain some facts that provide a picture supported by other polls that are scientifically valid. The real problem is that the Times wants to make it look like good news for Barack, so the story is tilted.

USA Today also uses a poll of registered Democrats and those leaning that way for its analysis on the race, but the paper isn't trying to make things look good for Barack where they're particularly bad.
Barack Obama's national standing has been significantly damaged by the controversy over his former pastor, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, raising questions for some voters about the Illinois senator's values, credibility and electability.

The erosion of support among Democrats and independents raises the stakes in Tuesday's Indiana and North Carolina primaries, which represent a chance for Obama to reassert his claim to a Democratic nomination that seems nearly in his grasp. A defeat in Indiana and a close finish in North Carolina, where he's favored, could fuel unease about his ability to win in November. Such results also could help propel Hillary Rodham Clinton's uphill campaign all the way to the Democratic convention in August.

Those first two paragraphs in USA Today nail down the state of the campaign at this moment with incredible precision.

Read down to the next post to see some of the dramatic damage done to the reputation of Barack by the Wright controversy.

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