Two of Fox News' flagship programs attacked the Occupy Wall Street protesters by seizing upon a "poll" conducted by New York magazine, painting them as far out of the mainstream. But Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Gretchen Carlson misrepresented the "poll," whose statistics only apply to the 100 protesters "who are in it for the long haul" that they interviewed; it was not a truly random sample of the larger population of protesters.
On Thursday's The O'Reilly Factor, guest and Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson said of the protesters: "Guess what? New York magazine polled 100 of the people down there. Here's what I find interesting. Most of them are in their 20s, and they believe that Canada is how America should become, which says socialism to me. ... Here's the other thing. They like Denmark second, where anything goes. Shocking." O'Reilly responded by noting that "34 percent of these people believe that the United States is the same as Al Qaeda. There's no difference, they're both evil."
Directly following O'Reilly's show, Sean Hannity repeated the same figures, saying: "Hardly a member of the right-wing conspiracy, the liberal magazine New York did a poll. Thirty-four percent of those Occupy Wall Street lunatics are actually convinced the U.S. government is no better than Al Qaeda, 37 percent say capitalism can't be saved, it's inherently immoral."
As seriously as O'Reilly, Carlson and Hannity took these findings, you'd think that they were talking about a legitimate, scientific poll that comprehensively examined the views of the protesters. They were not.
The New York article on its survey states only that it "polled 100 protesters who are in it for the long haul," which suggests that they did not conduct a scientific poll. There's no indication the magazine did anything beyond send reporters to Zuccotti Park and ask questions of protesters until they talked to 100 of them. That's not exactly a Gallup poll.
Carlson misrepresented it further by portraying those who claimed that Canada and Denmark were "what America should become" as representative of all those polled. In fact, the article merely quotes those answers (as well as a third one, "I don't accept the premises of this question") without applying any ranking to them. Further, while Hannity claimed that "37 percent say capitalism can't be saved, it's inherently immoral," he didn't mention that 46 percent agreed with the statement that capitalism "[i]sn't fundamentally evil; it just needs to be regulated."
And that part about "34 percent of these people believe that the United States is the same as Al Qaeda"? It was part of a question asking those to rank themselves on a "Scale of Liberalism." Both O'Reilly and Hannity failed to note that a larger number, 41 percent, declared that they were "[f]ed up with Democrats, believe country needs overhaul." Substitute "Democrats" for "Republicans," and you would probably have a similar percentage of tea party activists agreeing.
But that's not as big a piece of outrage bait for Fox's viewership as the Al Qaeda stuff, is it?