December 20, 2010
Media Misinformation 2010 vs. 2008By John Ziegler
Thanks to the University of Maryland (via the New York Times), the left has come up with an explanation for the Republican landslide in 2010: the voters were ignorant thanks to biased media coverage perpetrated mostly by Fox News.
This conclusion, based on a study/poll which has only slightly more credibility than a Keith Olbermann rape rant, caused me great amusement because I commissioned not one, but two scientific polls about the 2008 election which came to virtually the same conclusion (minus the Fox News part). Those surveys were universally, and at times maliciously, attacked by the left to the point where the Zogby organization refused to duplicate the first one because of all the blowback.
The purpose of my polls was to quantify the impact of the media's remarkable pro-Obama and anti-Palin bias on the electorate for my documentary, Media Malpractice. What we found back then was that McCain voters and those "exposed" to Fox News and talk radio were far more likely to answer our simple multiple-choice questions correctly than Obama voters and those "exposed" to any other media outlet. The most dramatic example was that those voters "exposed" to "conservative" media were far more informed when it came to simply knowing that it was the Democratic Party which controlled congress at the time. This turned out to be rather determinative when it came to voters' presidential choice.
Conversely, we discovered that it was only when it came to knowing all the negative stories about Sarah Palin (an incredible 98% of those "exposed" to MSNBC knew that Palin was the candidate with the pregnant teenage daughter) that those consumers of the more liberal outlets excelled. Otherwise, fans of liberal media were far more likely to get our easy questions wrong.
At the time, I was accused (wrongly) by, among others, liberal numbers guru Nate Silver of asking misleading questions and creating a "push poll" (an allegation Silver reeled back once he learned what a "push poll" actually is). Despite the fact that such allegations were clearly specious, the mainstream media used the charges to rationalize ignoring the findings that shattered the narrative that their favorite candidate, Obama, had been elected by an "enlightened" electorate.
I will be waiting with bated breath to see if Silver and his buddies on the left react in anywhere near the same way to this most recent poll from the University of Maryland. However, I will be sure not to hold that breath too long, because though the Maryland poll has far more holes in it than anything I or any other "conservative" could ever dream of getting away with, I am quite certain that it will not receive anywhere near the same kind of scrutiny and criticism from the elites in the "mainstream."
For example, one of the questions/responses that most mystified the surveyors was that the vast majority of people thought that the statement "most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created only a few jobs or caused job losses" was accurate. Even 65% of MSNBC viewers (the group that did the "best") thought that that declaration was true. The poll-takers enthusiastically use this data point to conclude that the media caused voters to fail to see the wonderful attributes of the stimulus plan, but there are several problems with this conclusion.
The first is that the question doesn't ask about the stimulus plan's impact on unemployment at all. Instead, it asks what "most economists" "estimate" about the stimulus's influence on the job market. But that isn't the only issue here. Skepticism about what defines a "saved" job has run legitimately throughout the discourse on the "stimulus," and the question also leaves open a massive loophole with the incredibly indistinct word "few" attached to the numbers of jobs.
Therefore, since unemployment has, by most measures, gone up since the stimulus bill was passed, it is perfectly logical and legitimate (even if hopeful and self-interested estimates by liberals suggest otherwise) to surmise that the program has had little, if any, positive impact on jobs. The bottom line is that the real answer to this question is ambiguous at best, and it no more belongs in a poll testing voters' "knowledge" than a question that asks whether President Obama is a socialist.
Several other queries used in the study can also be classified as basically asking voters not about "facts," but instead about "what supposedly smart liberals think."
Their question about the health care bill's effect on the deficit, which the pollsters apparently somehow know will end up as a net positive, actually asks what the majority of "economists" (at least those approved of by liberal academia) "think" the impact will be. For a conservative, it is hardly an indication of ignorance to say that such estimates are based on woefully biased projections, but those who answered that Obamacare will add to the deficit were marked as unambiguously "wrong" in their response.
Similarly, the poll asks what "most scientists" (smart liberals) think about the loaded term "climate change," and whether it is true that the U.S. economy is getting "worse." "Worse" is such a vague term (worse for whom? by what gauge?) that this is kind of like asking someone to describe the status of the famously fickle weather in Ireland on a cloudy day.
Other embarrassingly amateurish questions which should completely discredit the entire study include asking the respondent whether his individual federal income taxes have gone up in the past year. If anyone said yes (about a third did), he was marked as having given a "wrong" answer despite the undisputed fact that if you made more money this year than last year, you almost assuredly paid more money in federal income taxes.
Perhaps even more bizarrely, the authors of the study claim that the "correct" answer (for at least 97% of people) is "my taxes have gone down," even though the primary basis for this is a rather small payroll tax credit which technically is not even part of one's "federal income tax," about which the question asks. All of this, of course, disregards the inherent arrogance of a poll that proclaims to know more about a person's tax situation than the person himself does.
Just to make sure they could really embarrass conservatives (as well as get a guest spot on the MSNBC show of their choice), the pollsters also asked a "birther" question. However, the way they asked it was so pathetic as to render the results almost totally meaningless. Instead of simply asking, "Was President Obama born in the United States?," they threw a monkey wrench larger than Obama's infamous certificate of live birth into the question by providing the option that the answer to the question is "unclear."
This caveat had two important consequences. First, it meant that relatively few respondents (even from the Fox News crowd) gave an outright "no," which forced the pollsters to combine the "nos" with the "unclears" in order to make it look like this is a very significant issue. Secondly, it created real confusion over what the "correct" answer even is, as one does not need to be a "birther" in order to think that there is a lack of clarity on the issue of Obama's citizenship (though, for the record, I would have answered "yes"). Heck, by a strict definition, almost anything that lacks video evidence is not completely "clear" (just ask an O.J. Simpson juror).
No one is more willing than I am to acknowledge that the average voter is far too ignorant of important information and that the recent dramatic increase in partisan "journalism" has allowed far too many people to choose their own facts. But by bathing in its own ignorance, partisanship and hypocrisy, this study does nothing to further the cause of rectifying these obvious problems.
John Ziegler is a former radio talk show host, television commentator, and author turned documentary filmmaker. His most recent feature film, Media Malpractice...How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted was just released nationwide via Video On Demand. You can find out more about that release here.