NY Times , ABC, CBS wrongly suggested public equally dissatisfied with congressional Democrats as Republicans


In news reports that purported to show that the public disapproves equally of Democrats and Republicans over the Senate filibuster battle, The New York Times, CBS News and ABC News all failed to provide evidence to back up their central claim. Indeed, except for an internal Republican poll cited by the Times, none of these news outlets provided any evidence to show that Democrats are suffering in public opinion to the same extent as Republicans, and the evidence they do cite shows that Republicans are faring worse than Democrats.

In a May 22 article, Times reporter Carl Hulse stated that neither Democrats nor Republicans appear to be winning the political battle concerning the Senate debate over filibustering judicial nominees. To support this claim, Hulse cited an analyst for the Cook Political Report:

Amy Walter, a nonpartisan analyst for the Cook Political Report, said it was too early to gauge the implications for 2006. But she shares the view that, at the moment, the general public does not like what it sees from either side.

"Voters have been fed a steady diet of Terri Schiavo, judicial wrangling and basic bickering," Ms. Walter said. "It is a pox on both of them."

To support his and Walter's assertion, Hulse cited a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll conducted May 11-15 and a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted May 12-16. But rather than indicating an equal public disdain for both parties, both polls show that the public is more displeased with congressional Republicans than Democrats. And neither poll specifically addressed Congress' performance, or the approval or disapproval of either party, based on the current Senate debate surrounding judicial filibusters.

Hulse wrote that the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll "found that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Congress' performance." He did not note, however, that this same poll found that 47 percent of respondents would prefer to see a Democratic-controlled Congress emerge from the 2006 elections, compared to 41 percent who would rather see Republicans in control. Hulse also noted that the Pew poll "found that 64 percent of those surveyed believed that Congress was bickering more than usual." However, the Pew poll also indicated that the job approval rating for congressional Republican leaders dropped four points since March 2005, while the approval rating for Democratic leaders remained constant over the same time period. Hulse acknowledged this trend within the Pew poll, but dismissed it, noting that "the overall backing for both [parties] was modest." In addition, Pew found that approval of Democratic leaders has actually risen 2 percent and disapproval dropped 3 percent since March 2005, though both those changes are within the poll's margin of error.

Hulse also cited an internal Republican poll in support of his assertion that neither party is "winning" the filibuster, but did not give any of the poll's specific findings, or even any indication that he had actually seen the poll itself. Rather, he quoted a Senate Republican Conference memorandum that said: "As a result of this debate, both Senate Republicans and Democrats have seen drops in brand images ... but Democrats are losing much more ground than we are."

Both CBS anchor Bob Schieffer and ABC News national correspondent Dean Reynolds made claims similar to Hulse's, citing nonspecific poll data to back their assertions. On the May 22 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer discussed the filibuster debate with New York Times columnist David Brooks and Chicago Tribune legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg, commenting that the polls show the public is "fed up with both sides, and the approval rating of the members of Congress just keeps getting lower and lower and lower."

On the May 22 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Reynolds reported that pollsters were observing a largely negative reaction to the filibuster debate, then concluded: "All of this translates into some pretty negative feelings about members of Congress of both parties, and an impression seems to be sinking in out here over flyover country ... that whoever wins the battle over the filibuster could lose a seat on Capitol Hill."

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