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  • Andrew Malcolm continues to invent and distort poll data

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In my column last week, I explained that Los Angeles Times reporter and former Laura Bush press secretary Andrew Malcolm took a few liberties with polling data in order to make things look bleak for President Obama.

    Today, Malcolm is back at it. Malcolm headlined his post about a new Washington Post poll "9 of 10 Americans worry about Obama's spending deficits: Poll." Later, he wrote "Currently, 90% of Americans are worried to some degree about the exploding federal spending deficit."

    Actually, he made that number up. The Post poll found 87 percent are concerned about the deficit. 87 is not 90. Granted, it's awfully close, and not substantively different. But reporters can't just go around changing poll results to fit their whims.

    Far more substantively: Malcolm's headline misstates the poll results. Malcolm claims the poll found that 90 percent of Americans "worry about Obama's spending deficits." Actually, the poll didn't attribute the deficits to Obama (or to spending, for that matter -- deficits are not only about spending, they're about tax cuts, too.)

    Malcolm's implication that Americans overwhelmingly worry about Obama's handling of the deficit (reinforced by his later assertion that "particular unhappiness focused on his handling of ... the federal deficit") is flatly contradicted by the poll's actual findings, in which the public is split down the middle on that question: 48 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the deficit, and 48 percent disapprove.

    It is, however, consistent with Malcolm's assertion last week that "As the months roll by, the results, added together, the clock is running out on Obama's ability to blame the last administration for all ills; the sense of his ownership of the nation's problems appears to be growing in the American mind." That assertion, by the way, was directly contradicted by the polls Malcolm was citing, which is probably why he didn't include any actual poll numbers to buttress the assertion.

    But that's not all.

    Malcolm stipulates that "Obama's personal popularity remains high," though he doesn't give an actual number. Or even a made-up number that is a few points lower than the actual number. In any case, he is again misrepresenting the poll, which did not ask "personal popularity" (whether people have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Obama.) It asked whether they approve of the job he is doing. Here's the actual question: "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?" The poll found 65 percent approve.

    But Malcolm is trying to convince readers that though Obama is personally popular, his policies and job performance are unpopular. So he falsely claims the poll found 90 percent concern about Obama's deficits (rather than 87 percent concern about the deficit.) And he changes the approval question, too, portraying it as a question about "personal popularity" rather than job approval.

    The moral of the story: If Andrew Malcolm writes about poll results, you should assume that he's either lying, or he doesn't know what he's talking about. Or both.

  • Chris Cillizza, please define "post-partisan figure"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This was from a couple days ago but it's so odd, and so indicative of the illogical mindset that dictates so much of the Beltway coverage under Obama, that it deserves another look. From the washingtonpost.com:

    President Obama was elected as a post-partisan figure of sorts but in his first six months in office, he and his political inner circle have taken an aggressive stance toward recruiting their preferred candidates in Senate races.

    To wit:

    • Obama met with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) in an attempt to convince him into the race against Sen. Richard Burr (R) in 2010. Cooper ultimately passed on the race as have several other leading Democrats.

    Cillizza goes on to detail other Congressional races in which Obama and his team have become involved. Okay. That's fine and interesting. It's what White Houses have pretty much always done. But how on earth does that relate to the hook of the story which was supposed to be that Obama has somehow flip-flopped; that he ran as a "post-partisan figure" (a tag the press completely concocted, btw), yet now he's trying to help recruit Democrats to run for office.

    Is Cillizza actually suggesting that when he was running for president that Obama somehow signaled to voters that, if elected, he would do absolutely nothing to help the Democratic Party win more seats in Congress? That he would do nothing to help recruit and select worthy candidates?

    Question: On what campaign trail (on what planet) did this stealth pledge take place?

  • Dept of Lousy Math and Lousier Constitutional Law

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard complains about last week's CBS/New York Times poll:

    Realizing that Barack Obama's healthcare initiative has hit some roadblocks in Congress, the good folks at CBS News and the New York Times figured they'd help it along by creating a new poll on the subject that WAY oversampled people who voted for Obama.

    ...

    As can be plainly seen on page 7 of the poll's data, only 73 percent of respondents divulged who they voted for last November. 48 percent said Obama, 25 percent McCain.

    What this means is this poll surveyed 66 percent Obama supporters versus 34 percent McCain.

    Uh ... no. What this means is that 48 percent of respondents say they voted for Obama, and 25 percent say they voted for McCain, and 27 percent either say they didn't vote, say they voted for someone else, or refuse to say for whom they voted. You can't just wish away those 27 percent and pretend that the poll "surveyed 66 percent Obama supporters versus 34 percent McCain."

    And while we're on the topic, it's a pretty widely-known fact of polling that questions that ask who respondents voted for in the last election tend to overstate the vote for the winner, so Sheppard's conclusion that the poll "WAY oversampled" Obama voters isn't really supported by the evidence he provides.

    And, as Eric Boehlert noted earlier, "the Times sampling in terms of party affiliation was in line with years' worth of previous polls." Not to mention the fact that the poll found that, by an 11-point plurality (50 to 39), Republicans favor a "government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans." So the Times poll could have consisted only of Republicans, and it still would have shown strong support for a public plan.

    Sheppard's conclusion would seem to apply better to Sheppard himself than to the New York Times (were it not for the unconstitutionality and general stupidity of applying it to anyone):

    Honestly, stuff like this should be illegal and any news organization found doing it should be significantly fined.

    In any industry you could name, such deception of the public would meet with very serious consequences.

    Why are so-called news outlets allowed to get away with such obvious deceit with total impunity?

    Actually, that pretty nicely sums up the conservative media critics' view of journalism: They think it should be illegal for news organizations to do things they don't like (even when their unhappiness is based on a complete lack of understanding of polling and basic math) and the journalists involved should be fined.

    In other words, conservative media critics like Sheppard don't believe in independent media. They don't believe in freedom of the press. So why on earth should any journalist ever take anything they say seriously?

  • Dept. of Lousy Analogies

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Newsbusters complains that the New York Times didn't report the fact that journalist David Rohde was held by the Taliban, even though it did disclose government torture:

    In their watchdog role of keeping the public informed, the New York Times has over the years disclosed government secrets regarding anti-terrorism tactics, overseas prisons, interrogation tactics, and military tactics, that critics contend have harmed the effectiveness of the programs and put America and our military at greater risk.

    ...

    So when Times journalist David Rohde was captured by the Taliban and held for seven months, the Times was going to report that, right? After all, doesn't the public have a right to know about the threats they may face while traveling in Afghanistan?

    Yeah, because getting kidnapped is exactly the same as torturing people and conducting warrantless spying on American citizens.

    Seriously, that's what Newsbusters is saying: Because the New York Times reported that the Bush administration was probably violating the law, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and basic human decency, the Times was obligated to report that the Taliban was holding Rohde, even if it may have jeopardized Rohde's life.

    That is lunacy, though the blatant disregard it shows for Rohde's life probably shouldn't be surprising coming from people who are, after all, defending torture.

  • NEWS FLASH: Power Line has debunked NYT health care poll!!

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Y'know, the one from Sunday which showed an astounding 85 percent of Americans support health care reform, 72 percent want a government-run system, and a solid majority said they'd be willing to pay more taxes to make the reform a reality.

    Y'know, that one.

    Fear not conservatives, Power Line is so on it. Turns out the Times polled too many Democrats and according to Power Line the poll "skewed left." And since the Times poll didn't ask enough Republicans their opinion, or actually, since the Times didn't ask the right Republicans their opinion, the survey results are invalid. It's a "bad pool."

    Phew! Close call.

    Slight problem, though. Power Line's knee-jerk conclusion was that if the Times had polled more Republicans, or the 'right' Republicans, than the health care results would have been different because, as Power Line seemed to suggest, everybody knows Republicans oppose government-run health care.

    Except, apparently, Republicans who live in the United States. According to the Times survey, 50 percent of Republicans favor government-run health care. So why would it matter if Times pollsters had contacted more of them?

    FYI, the Times sampling in terms of party affiliation was in line with years' worth of previous polls. So how did Power Line prove that the survey skewed left? From this single question and response:

    See, Obama didn't beat McCain 48 percent to 25 percent last November, which proves the poll "skewed left." Of course, a more logical take-away from that specific Q&A would be that not that many Republicans want to admit to voting for McCain. But that's not what the detectives at Power Line deduced. They announced that single question meant the entire poll was invalid.

    I'm sure Power Line readers are relieved.

    (h/t Suburban Guerrilla)

  • America's worst media critic (non-Newsbusters division)

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In an online discussion today, a reader pointed out to Howard Kurtz that Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has ridiculed Barack Obama for referring to Khamenei as Iran's "Supreme Leader," despite the fact that Krauthammer himself referred to Khamenei the same way just days earlier.

    Kurtz's response? "Agree or disagree, he's making serious points about an explosive foreign policy question. There's not even a personal attack on Obama, just a strongly worded policy disagreement. That doesn't sound like derangement to me."

    Just to spell this out: Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz defends conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer after Krauthammer attacks Obama for doing something Krauthammer does, too. Such hypocritical attacks, Kurtz says, are "serious points."

    Here, for the record, are the Krauthammer quotes Kurtz was responding to:

    "-After treating this popular revolution as an inconvenience to the real business of Obama-Khamenei negotiations, the president speaks favorably of 'some initial reaction from the Supreme Leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.' Where to begin? 'Supreme Leader'? Note the abject solicitousness with which the American president confers this honorific on a clerical dictator." -- Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, June 19

    "And the president has said 'I have seen in Iran's initial reaction from the supreme leader.' He is using an honorific to apply to a man whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution." -- Charles Krauthammer, Fox News All Stars, June 16

    "Look, these were sham elections from the beginning. In a real democracy, you can have a change of power as a result. That was not going to happen in Iran. The mullahs are in charge. Khamenei, the supreme leader, remains in charge." -- Charles Krauthammer, Fox News All Stars, June 12

    UPDATE: Think Progress' Matt Corley notes that Krauthammer called Khamenei "the Supreme Leader" again today. Does Kurtz still think Krauthammer's criticism of Obama for using that title is a "serious point"?

  • Kurtz again offers absurd assessment of Chris Matthews

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    If MSNBC is really as liberal as Howard Kurtz says it is, why does Kurtz insist on exaggerating his evidence? Here he is today:

    Left wing tilt: Can someone please explain what MSNBC's "Left wing tilt" is? The only show I watch is Morning Joe and I don't see much "liberalism" there. Who but the homebound watch evening cable chatter?

    Howard Kurtz: I don't think there's any dispute -- not even MSNBC would dispute -- that Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz are firmly on the left, and Chris Matthews is a former Democratic strategist who recently pondered running for the Senate from Pennsylvania as a Democrat. Those are the hosts on the air on MS from 5 to 11 p.m.

    Chris Matthews hasn't been a "Democratic strategist" for roughly 25 years. His flirtation with a Senate run as a Democrat isn't particularly illustrative; at the time he was thinking about running, the incumbent was a Republican. And he reportedly decided not to run because there wasn't anything he wanted to accomplish as a Senator - not exactly a sign of someone someone with strong progressive views or Democratic leanings. He has said he voted for George W. Bush -- again, not something that is typically a sign of strong Democratic leanings or a liberal worldview.

    On the other hand, Matthews spent the latter half of the Clinton administration attacking the Clintons and Al Gore, and most of the Bush administration lavishing praise on Bush and attacking and mocking Democrats. And his attitudes about ethnicity and (especially) gender are famously at odds with progressive values. (Not that Matthews is alone among MSNBC personalities when it comes to less-than-progressive attitudes about women.)

    Kurtz' use of Matthews as evidence of MSNBC's liberalism undermines his case - and his simplistic and misleading description of Matthews suggests that he knows Matthews is not a good example.

    PREVIOUSLY:

    Howard Kurtz, media critic

    JoeSco can't get no respect

  • While hanging out with white nationalist, Buchanan again attacks Sotomayor

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Last week, I explained that Pat Buchanan's mockery of Sonia Sotomayor for, as Buchanan describes it, having read "Pinocchio" as part of her "college work" is a crock. "Let's see if Pat Buchanan drops this inaccurate talking point," I concluded, though I think we all knew the answer was likely to be "No."

    Over the weekend, Buchanan confirmed that skepticism. While hanging out with the white nationalist he invited to his conference, Buchanan again mocked Sotomayor's summer reading. As Think Progress' Lee Fang notes, while Buchanan mocked Sotomayor's reading skills, he stood beneath a banner that misspelled the word "conference."

    PREVIOUSLY:

    Does MSNBC approve of Pat Buchanan's appearances on a "pro-White" radio show?

    What would Pat Buchanan have to say to get himself fired from MSNBC?

  • Howard Kurtz is "amazed" by right-wing attacks on ABC News, he just won't say so in print

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Here's Kurtz, the WashPost media critic, on the preemptive attacks on ABC for hosting forum on health care this week:

    I continue to be amazed that ABC is being bashed for its White House health scare special before a single minute has aired--but not by the fact that the GOP is trying to score points in advance.

    That was Kurtz's one-sentence take on the controversy. (It appeared in his daily online round-up of media news and notes.) What's curious is that, according to Nexis, Kurtz has not written a single word in the Washington Post itself about the right-wing attacks on ABC News. The media critic clearly thinks it's bogus to attack a news program before it's even been aired. Kurtz thinks it's nuts because every sane person who knows anything about journalism thinks it's nuts.

    But Kurtz won't say so in print. Kurtz and his editors won't devote any space inside the influential Washington Post to call out the right-wing crazies for their war on ABC News. Every Beltway journalists knows the attack is groundless and absurd, but people like Kurtz don't air those misgivings too loudly.

    Or else they might find themselves under the 'liberal media' gun.

  • Why did Ceci Connolly leave out key context? She won't say.

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    During today's online discussion, a reader asked Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly why she omitted important context in her reporting on the AMA:

    New York, N.Y.: Ceci, in your article last week you described the AMA as being "the nation's largest physician group," but for some reason you didn't note that that of the 800,000 doctors in America, just 1/3 are AMA members, nor did you mention that the AMA gets at least 20 percent of its budget from drug companies. And those same drug companies are in the midst of a multimillion dollar advocacy campaign against many progressive health reform ideas. Why did you and your editors choose to leave out this extremely crucial context?

    washingtonpost.com: In Pitch to AMA, Obama Paints Mixed Picture

    Ceci Connolly: I don't think the two points are mutually exclusive. The AMA is the largest doctors' group, but it obviously does not represent every physician. That's the tricky part with any trade group.

    Connolly's response misses the point entirely. Yes, the tricky part in writing about trade groups is that they can be large but not fully representative. And Connolly failed to make that clear in the article in question. Reading the article, you would have no idea that AMA represents a small fraction of doctors. In fact, you would likely get the opposite impression. Nor did Connolly indicate, as the reader pointed out, that AMA gets significant funding from drug companies.

    Connolly's explanation -- "that's the tricky part" -- isn't an explanation; it is a reminder that her article was flawed. Which isn't really in question; the question is why, and whether she'll do better next time.