Caught in inconsistency by Media Matters, Wash. Post polling director changed story

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

After Media Matters pointed out the flaws in Washington Post polling director Richard Morin's recent explanation for why the Post does not conduct a poll to measure public support for impeachment of President Bush, Morin changed his story in an online chat, offering a different -- though still flawed -- explanation.

In her November 13 column, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote that Post polling director Richard Morin told her that the Post does not "do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached" because such a question "is biased and would produce a misleading result." Media Matters for America pointed out the inconsistency in Morin's claim: the Post, under Morin's direction, asked similar questions about then-President Bill Clinton throughout 1998. Morin has now changed his story, saying that "we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion."

Howell wrote on November 13 of reader requests for the Post to conduct a poll to measure public support for impeachment:

First, there was a swarm to me and to Post Polling Editor Richard Morin asking that The Post do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached. Whoa. Since we get mail all the time saying that we are biased against Bush or are in his back pocket, why would The Post want to do that? The question many demanded that The Post ask is biased and would produce a misleading result, Morin said; he added that the campaign was started by Democrats.com.

Media Matters pointed out flaws in Howell's -- and Morin's -- position:

Howell didn't explain how "the question many demanded the Post ask is biased," she just asserted it (attributing the assertion to Morin). But how would it be biased? Surely it must be possible to design a poll question to measure the public's support for impeachment that isn't "biased." After all, the Post did it repeatedly when there was a Democratic president.

For example, A January 1998 Post poll conducted just days after the first revelations of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky asked the following questions:

"If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"

"There are also allegations that Clinton himself lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman. If Clinton lied in this way, would you want him to remain in office as president, or would you want him to resign the presidency?"

"If Clinton lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman, and he did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"

Morin was the Post's polling director at the time, and he wrote the January 26, 1998, article reporting the poll results.

How is "If the president did not tell the truth about the Iraq war, should he be impeached?" a more biased question than the questions the Post -- under Morin's direction -- asked in 1998? They take precisely the same format: If X is true, should the president be impeached?

In a December 20 online chat on the Post's website, Morin flippantly dismissed questions about the Post's failure to poll about impeachment, ignored the inconsistency between his statement to Howell and the fact that the Post polled about impeachment in 1998, and made the new claim that the Post doesn't conduct such a poll now because "it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion." From Morin's chat:

Naperville, Ill.: Why haven't you polled on public support for the impeachment of George W. Bush?

Richard Morin: This question makes me mad...

Seattle, Wash.: How come ABC News/Post poll has not yet polled on impeachment?

Richard Morin: Getting madder...

Haymarket, Va.: With all the recent scandals and illegal/unconstitutional actions of the President, why hasn't ABC News / Washington Post polled whether the President should be impeached?

Richard Morin: Madder still...

Dublin, Ireland: In a statement on Sunday, John Dean, former White House counsel during Watergate, stated that President Bush is "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." Will The Washington Post be polling about impeachment of the President in the near future, now that this topic has taken on national significance?

Richard Morin: An impeachment demand from Ireland? Oh my gawd. Now I'm furious.

Let me explain.

For the past eight months or so, the major media pollsters have been the target of a campaign organized by a Democratic website demanding that we ask a question about impeaching Bush in our polls.

The website lists the e-mail addresses of every media pollster, reporters as well as others. The Post's ombudsman is even on their hit list.

The website helpfully provides draft language that can be cut-and-pasted into a blanket e-mail.

The net result is that every few months, when this website fires up the faithful with another call for e-mails, my mailbox is filled with dozens and dozens of messages that all read exactly the same (often from the same people, again and again). Most recently, a psychology professor from Arizona State University sent me the copy-and-paste e-mail, not a word or comma was changed. I only hope his scholarship is more original.

We first laughed about it. Now, four waves into this campaign,we are annoyed. Really, really annoyed.

Some free advice: You do your cause no service by organizing or participating in such a campaign. It is viewed by me and others with the same scorn reserved for junk mail. Perhaps a bit more.

That said, we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion --witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.

Enough, already.

The Post first reported the Lewinsky story on January 21, 1998. The newspaper began polling on the question of whether the public would support impeachment just two days later, on January 23 -- hardly long enough for the "considered discussion" Morin now says is a prerequisite for asking about impeachment.

Nowhere in Morin's new explanation does he claim that a question about impeachment would be "biased" or "would produce a misleading result," as Howell says Morin originally told her. Further, his new claim that the Post does not ask about impeachment because "no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates" are calling for it does not ring true. After all, one recent Post poll asked, "Should all U.S. forces in Iraq be withdrawn immediately, or should they be decreased, but not all withdrawn immediately" -- despite the fact that no member of the congressional Democratic leadership has called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. Finally, Morin's statement that impeachment is not "a topic of considered discussion" seems to be at odds with the findings of other polls showing that the majority of Americans think Bush should be impeached if he lied about Iraq.

At the end of his chat, Morin posted a question (submitted by Media Matters staff) that raised the inconsistency between his comments to Howell and the Post's prior actions. Morin did not respond to the question:

Richard Morin: Okay, there are a LOT of angry comments directed at me over my impeachment poll response(s). We're out of time, but I do want to share them with you.

Here they come...Welcome to my world! And see you next time.

Washington, D.C.: In her November 13 column, Post Ombusdman Deborah Howell addressed reader requests for The Post to polls to measure public support for impeachment.

Howell wrote: "First, there was a swarm to me and to Post Polling Editor Richard Morin asking that The Post do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached ... The question many demanded that The Post ask is biased and would produce a misleading result, Morin said; he added that the campaign was started by Democrats.com."

Please explain WHY a question asking if President Bush should be impeached if he lied to the country about war is "biased".

Please also explain how this is consistent with polls the Post ran -- under your direction, I might add -- in 1998 asking whether then-President Clinton should be impeached if he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Do you now believe those questions you asked -- and reported on -- throughout 1998 were "biased"? If so, do you believe you and The Post owe Clinton an apology?

Why does The Post think it is appropriate to raise the spectre of impeachment when there is a Democratic president, but not when there is a Republican in office?

For more information, see this post: Media continues to ignore impeachment polling

Richard Morin: still another...

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