Conservative media tout flawed poll to call Dems 9-11 conspiracy theorists

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Several conservative commentators have misrepresented the results of an April 20-May 1 Rasmussen Results poll question -- which was itself ambiguous -- to accuse a substantial percentage of Democrats of believing that President Bush knew about the 9-11 attacks in advance and deliberately did nothing to stop them. According to Rasmussen Reports, respondents were asked, "Did Bush know about the 9/11 attacks in advance?" Twenty-two percent replied that he did, 55 percent that he did not, and 22 percent were not sure. According to the poll: "Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure. Republicans reject that view and, by a 7-to-1 margin, say the President did not know in advance about the attacks. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 18% believe the President knew and 57% take the opposite view."

In his May 15 nationally syndicated column, titled "Just How Crazy Are the Dems?" National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg claimed that the poll found Democrats "are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance," and declared that "a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds." Yet as Goldberg himself admitted, the poll question was ambiguous. As Goldberg said, "Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent or that he failed to connect the dots or that they're just answering in a fit of pique." In other words, respondents could have been merely saying that Bush received ample warning of possible attacks.

Indeed, President Bush received a briefing on August 6, 2001, titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US," which indicated that Osama bin Laden wanted to conduct terrorist attacks on U.S. cities, that members of his Al Qaeda terrorist network had lived in or traveled to the U.S. for years, that bin Laden had previously said he wanted to hijack an American aircraft, and that "FBI information since that time indicate[d] patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." Investigative journalist Ron Suskind wrote in his book The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006) that Bush responded to this report by telling his CIA briefer, "All right, you've covered your ass."

Others have also touted this poll but ignored the ambiguity of the question entirely, in some cases misrepresenting the question and responses and ridiculing Democratic voters as delusional conspiracy theorists.

  • On the May 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly characterized the poll question as having said more than it actually did -- that "35 percent of American Democratic voters believe President Bush knew about the 9-11 attacks in advance and allowed them to happen." He later claimed that it indicated that "35 percent of Democratic voters believe that President Bush stood by and allowed 3,000 Americans to die on the streets." O'Reilly repeatedly referred to this as "madness," and claimed, "Sane people do not make that kind of leap."
  • On the May 7 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that according to the poll, "35 percent of this country's Democrats think that there was a government conspiracy about this and allowed these attacks to happen." He asserted that due to the poll, that "it's no longer funny to call [Democrats] kooks and freaks and so forth. This is -- they are deranged, dangerously uninformed, misinformed, or what have you." He continued: "The Democrat [sic] Party is not mainstream. It is literally a bunch of deranged, delusional radicals." Limbaugh postulated the poll results were due to the influence of the American news media and education system, which had "poison[ed] people's minds" against Bush since the attacks of 9-11.
  • In a May 9 post to his blog at townhall.com, nationally syndicated radio host Michael Medved claimed that according to this poll, "a stunning 61% of Democrats believed that the President of the United States may well have collaborated in the murder of 3,000 of his fellow citizens." He cited this poll as proof of "Democratic paranoia and conspiracy mongering," which he asserted "pushes the party to the lunatic fringe and leftwing edge of national opinion."

From Goldberg's May 15 column:

Most fair-minded readers will no doubt take me at my word when I say that a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds.

But, on the off chance that a few cynics won't take my word for it, I offer you data. Rasmussen Reports, the public opinion outfit, recently asked voters whether President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand. The findings? Well, here's how the research firm put it: "Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know and 26% are not sure."

So, 1 in 3 Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow, and a majority of Democrats either believe that Bush knew about the attacks in advance or can't quite make up their minds.

There are only three ways to respond to this finding: It's absolutely true, in which case the paranoid style of American liberalism has reached a fevered crescendo. Or, option B, it's not true and we can stop paying attention to these kinds of polls. Or there's option C -- it's a little of both.

My vote is for C. But before we get there, we should work through the ramifications of A and B.

[...]

So then there's option B -- the poll is just wrong. This is quite plausible. Indeed, the poll is surely partly wrong. Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent or that he failed to connect the dots or that they're just answering in a fit of pique. I'm game for option B. But if we're going to throw this poll away, I think liberals need to offer the same benefit of the doubt when it comes to data that are more convenient for them. For example, liberals have been dining out on polls showing that Fox News viewers, or Republicans generally, are more likely to believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Now, however flimsy, tendentious, equivocal or sparse you may think the evidence that Hussein had a hand in 9/11 may be, it's ironclad compared with the nugatory proof that Bush somehow permitted or condoned those attacks.

And then there's option C, which is most assuredly the reality. The poll is partly wrong or misleading, but it's also partly right and accurate. So maybe it's not 1 in 3 Democrats suffering from paranoid delusions. Maybe it's only 1 in 5, or 1 in 10. In other words, the problem isn't as profound as the poll makes it sound. But that doesn't mean the Democratic Party doesn't have a serious problem.

From the May 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Now for the top story tonight, somewhat related to the far-left propaganda being dished daily by Soros-funded websites. According to new Rasmussen poll, 35 percent of American Democratic voters believe President Bush knew about the 9-11 attacks in advance and allowed them to happen -- 35 percent. Overall, 22 percent of American voters believe that madness.

Joining us now, conservative commentator Monica Crowley and Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist. Julie, we'll begin with you. When I saw that stat, 35 percent of Democratic voters believe that President Bush stood by and allowed 3,000 Americans to die in the streets, I couldn't believe it.

[...]

O'REILLY: All right, look, I understand that the lack of credibility the White House has with most Americans. And it's apparent and it's true. But you can't make a leap like that. Sane people do not make that kind of leap.

ROGINSKY: I don't disagree with you, Bill. I don't disagree with you.

O'REILLY: Because you're basically saying -- the people who believe this -- that the president of the United States sat there and allowed 3,000 people to be murdered for whatever reason. And if you believe that based on nothing -- because again, if there was any evidence at all in play, it would be splattered on every front page of the Bush-hating, American-hating press all over the world.

From the May 7 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: There was a poll -- I saw this over the weekend, and I will admit to being surprised at this; I shouldn't have been. It's a Rasmussen poll. Democrats in America -- this is not voters. Likely voters, registered voters, this is a survey that represents all of America. Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9-11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39 percent say he didn't, and 26 percent aren't sure. Thirty-five percent of Democrats think that Bush knew.

Well, who in the world has been saying this? Who in the world has been getting -- why in the world -- hello, Bill Maher, perhaps. Hello, Rosie O'Donnell. Hello, any number of these kook blog websites. But this can only happen if there's a sufficient foundation of effervescent, boiling rage among these people in the first place. I don't care about the "why." I really don't care. The fact that 35 percent of this country's Democrats think that there was a government conspiracy about this and allowed these attacks to happen -- does that not give you an indication of just -- I mean, these -- it's no longer funny to call them kooks and freaks and so forth. This is -- they are deranged, dangerously uninformed, misinformed or what have you. This is a -- I don't know, I -- to me, this is just -- it's a shocking, shocking thing. I mean, there have been conspiracy theories ever since there have been humanity, but no conspiracy theories ever had this kind of belief among so-called mainstream people, which -- I guess that's it, they're not mainstream. The Democrat Party is not mainstream. It is literally a bunch of deranged, delusional radicals. And we'll be back.

[...]

RUSH: Now, about this Rasmussen poll, 35 percent of Democrats -- 35 percent -- think that Bush knew about 9-11 before it happened, which has to mean that Bush let it happen, which has to mean Bush wanted it to happen, which had to mean -- could mean that Bush was behind it happening. Thirty-five percent of Democrats, radicals and deranged. Thirty-five percent of Democrats translates to 17 percent of Americans if you do the math, assuming that 80 percent of the country is Republican or Democrat, evenly split, 20 percent the great, great moderate, independent line, it roughly comes out to 17 percent of Americans, or almost one in five, think that.

I'll tell you, if I've run the numbers right on this, instead of focusing on President Bush, do you think it might be better to focus on our schools and on our media? Do you think these people just woke up being this radical? Do you think that a week after 9-11 you would have gotten 35 percent of Democrats who thought that Bush knew about 9-11 before it happened and obviously let it happen? Do you think 35 percent -- you think 35 percent of any group would have said that? Ten percent? Clearly, this is a mindset that had a foundation -- as I say, these people already had their -- and why did they have the rage and hatred? Florida 2000, and then it got stoked and fueled by never-ending drive-by media reports about Bush. I'll tell you, that's where we need to start examining, not the president. We need to start examining the media, the schools, institutions of higher learning, because that's who's poisoning these people's minds. I mean, they might have had a little poison to start with, but it's certainly grown.

From Medved's May 9 townhall.com blog post:

Asked the question, "Did Bush Know About the 9/11 Attacks in Advance?" a shocking 35% of Democrats said "yes," another 26% said they weren't sure, and only 39% said "no." In other words, a stunning 61% of Democrats believed that the President of the United States may well have collaborated in the murder of 3,000 of his fellow citizens.

This willingness among most Democrats to entertain the idea that 9/11 represented a Bush-sanctioned "inside job" demonstrates the alarming extent to which conspiracy theorists, paranoids and America-hating extremists have taken over one of our major political parties. If someone honestly believes that the Commander in Chief received advance notification about attacks on his own country (including the Pentagon), but allowed those assaults to proceed for political purposes, then this sense of alienation and betrayal will poison all his other political attitudes and judgments.

Equally important, the crazed suspicions nurtured by much of the Democratic base serve to separate America's liberal party from the national mainstream. Among Republicans, not surprisingly, those who realize that Bush didn't "know in advance" outnumber those who suspect he did by a margin of 7-to-1.

And among independents - those not affiliated with either party - an overwhelming majority of more than 3-to-1 (57% to 18%) decisively rejects the idea that Bush knew about the devastating attacks before they occurred.

In other words, Democratic paranoia and conspiracy-mongering pushes the party to the lunatic fringe and leftwing edge of national opinion.

[...]

Such logical questions may not trouble partisan Democrats in their obsessive rage, but they ought to concern Americans in the middle who haven't surrendered themselves to nightmarish fantasies.

What happens to the tone and substance of American politics if one of our two great parties not only disagrees with the opposition leaders, but believes they're guilty of participating in mass murder of innocents Americans?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.