After smearing Obama, media figures call him polarizing

Several conservative media figures who have repeatedly spread falsehoods and smears of President Obama are now highlighting a poll analysis to suggest that Obama has polarized approval ratings, and have made the disputed suggestion that Obama himself has caused that polarization.

Recently, several conservative media figures have cited an April 2 Pew Research Center poll analysis to suggest that a March 9-12 Pew Research poll found that President Obama “has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.” Several of those media figures have also made the disputed suggestion that Obama has caused that polarization. These same media figures have repeatedly spread falsehoods about and smears of Obama and his policies. According to Washington Post Co. blogger Greg Sargent, Michael Dimock, an associate director at the Pew Research Center, stated that it is a misreading of the poll on which the analysis is based to conclude that Obama has “caused this divisiveness.” Sargent further reported that “Dimock also said this phenomenon is partly caused by the recent tendency of Republicans to be less charitable towards new Presidents than Dem[ocrat]s have been.”

Media figures who cited the Pew poll analysis, and who have a history of misrepresenting Obama and his policies, include:

  • On the April 7 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that the Pew poll analysis “said [Obama] split the country more than any president in modern history.” Scarborough later added, “It's more divisive than ever. I think there is a great separation between the personal affection and trust people have for Barack Obama and these policies. You have Joe Biden trying to push these policies -- they would put him in a penitentiary somewhere.”
  • During the April 6 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs claimed, “Turning to political news, there's hard evidence tonight that President Obama is a more polarizing president than any other over the past four decades.”
  • In an April 8 Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove wrote, “Part of Mr. Obama's polarized standing can be attributed to a long-term trend,” but asserted that “rather than end or ameliorate that trend, Mr. Obama's actions and rhetoric have accelerated it.”
  • During the April 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that “the president has polarized Americans. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats approve, but only 27 percent of Republicans like the job he's doing.”

Prior to highlighting the Pew poll analysis, Scarborough, Dobbs, Rove, and O'Reilly each misrepresented Obama's positions and those taken by his administration in a way that would arguably polarize people's views of Obama:


  • During the March 23 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough falsely claimed that Obama is “trying to pass budgets” that his own “budget director says [are] unsustainable.” In fact, asked during a March 20 conference call about the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projection that deficits would “remain between 4 percent and 6 percent of GDP” from 2012-2019 under Obama's budget, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Peter Orszag said that deficits in the “5 percent of GDP range ... would ultimately not be sustainable” but also said: “I think that what you're going to see, again, under our assumptions, our policies lead to lower deficits than that.” Moreover, in a March 20 blog post on the OMB website, Orszag specifically said that "[t]he President's Budget," if enacted, would “put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”
  • During the March 24 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough advanced the myth that Obama was the “most liberal” United States senator.
  • During the February 27 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough asserted that nations “are testing Barack Obama in a way ... that they wouldn't have tested Dick Cheney,” citing as examples Iran “g[etting] the uranium they need,” “North Korea going ahead with this long-range missile launch,” and Pakistan “strik[ing] a deal with the Taliban.” Scarborough later said, “You've got the situation where you've got hard-liners like George Bush and Dick Cheney out of the office, that's one reason they test him.” However, during Cheney's two terms as vice president in the Bush administration, Iran enriched uranium, North Korea tested missiles and reportedly detonated a nuclear bomb, and Pakistan negotiated a cease-fire with tribal leaders that the Bush administration reportedly pointed to in explaining the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
  • During the March 6 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough aired a cropped graphic, labeled “Dow Since Election Day,” and stated: "[W]e've also been frustrated about the lack of clarity out of the Treasury Department. We've been showing graphics of the Dow Jones just collapsing since Barack Obama's election." In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, the Dow was on a downward trajectory months before the election, dropping 3,738 points from May 2, 2008, to November 3, 2008.
  • During the March 9 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough claimed that Obama has “cho[sen] this time to nationalize health care with a $635 billion down payment.” Scarborough's assertion that Obama would “nationalize health care” echoed Sen. John McCain's false characterization of Obama's health care proposal during the 2008 presidential campaign.
  • During the February 3 edition of Morning Joe, while attacking the economic recovery package, Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski misrepresented New Deal unemployment figures to argue that government spending does not boost employment. Scarborough cherry-picked unemployment data to claim that unemployment was at “20 percent” in 1938, a conservative tactic used to ignore the downward trend in unemployment that occurred under the New Deal.
  • During the March 20 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough declared, “Socialism is hard. ... You want to socialize entire sectors, and you can't even get people to work in the Treasury Department.”
  • During the February 2 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough claimed of the economic recovery bill: “This is as close to unprecedented of a total, all-out, socialist bill as I've ever seen in my life.”
  • During the March 4 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough discussed America “moving ... closer to European-style socialism,” and claimed, “That's not a right-wing claim, it's the truth.”
  • During the March 19 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough agreed with the assertion, “We have 535 Hugo Chavezes out on Capitol Hill, and one in the White House.”


  • On the March 24 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs stated that in proposing that Congress enact legislation allowing the federal government to take over failing nonbank financial institutions, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had “made a pitch for even more power, expanded, unprecedented power that would allow the government to virtually shut down failing financial companies, such as AIG.” In fact, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) chairman Sheila Bair -- both Bush appointees -- previously stated that the federal government needed and should have such power.
  • During the February 17 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs falsely claimed, “President Obama sign[ed] a $800 billion stimulus package that we now know will come to about $3 trillion with debt servicing over the next decade,” echoing a false claim that the CBO estimated that the full cost of the bill would reach $3.2 trillion by 2019. In fact, more than half of the $3.2 trillion figure comes from the cost of permanently extending more than 20 provisions in the recovery bill, which the bill does not do.
  • Echoing a frequent Republican talking point during the February 3 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs claimed that in the House-passed economic recovery bill, “There's more than $4 billion for so-called neighbor -- are you ready, neighborhood stabilization activities -- $4 billion, which translates into funding for so-called advocacy groups such as ACORN -- ACORN, the left-wing advocacy group. That organization and its voter-registration drives are under investigation in more than a dozen states.” In fact, the recovery bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding; ACORN itself has said that it is ineligible for the funds and has no plans to apply for them. Dobbs repeated the claim during the February 4 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight.
  • On the January 20 broadcast of United Stations Radio Networks' The Lou Dobbs Show, Dobbs claimed that Obama's “inaugural celebration from start to finish will cost an estimated $170 million, and that dwarfs the $42 million spent on George Bush's inauguration just four years ago,” thereby joining a growing list of media figures who have repeated a false comparison between projections of the cost of Obama's inauguration and estimates of the cost of Bush's 2005 ceremony and surrounding events. The figure given by Dobbs and other media figures for the cost of Bush's last inauguration excludes security, transportation, and other incidental costs to federal, state, and local governments, as Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert noted.


  • On the April 2 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly asked, “Is President Obama selling out America? That is the subject of this evening's 'Talking Points Memo.' ” O'Reilly later added, “Key question: Where does Barack Obama stand? Are the right-wing pundits correct? Is he down with the global-justice jihad?”
  • On the March 4 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly misrepresented comments Obama made to characterize Obama as dishonest. O'Reilly aired a clip of Obama stating, “We are going to ban all earmarks, the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review," which O'Reilly falsely characterized as “President Obama pledging last January to end earmarks in federal spending.” Later in the show, referring to earmarks included in the omnibus appropriations bill, O'Reilly stated, “But Obama's on record -- we just played the clip -- that he's going to do away with this. And then he takes 9,000 of them and signs it?” In fact, in the January 6 clip O'Reilly played, Obama was referring to his desire to “ban all earmarks” from his “recovery and reinvestment plan,” which he specifically distinguished from “the overall budget process.”


  • During the April 6 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Rove claimed of Obama's trip to Europe: “European leaders must be looking at him saying, 'What the heck is going on?' ” because Obama mentioned his predecessor, and that “at times this kind of rhetoric puts him into a place where he seems to be running down the United States of America.”
  • On the March 26 edition of Hannity, Rove accused Obama of having put forward a “radical budget,” that “Obama wanted the country to turn to the issue of green jobs, education, health care, and instead, people are looking at these huge deficits and the huge power grab and the huge spending, and saying, really, what I'm concerned about is taxes, deficit, and spending. And he's succeeded in putting the agenda back on to terms that are -- that are more convenient and comfortable for conservatives, and he's done so through a very radical budget.” But in response to such claims, Obama has repeatedly raised the argument that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic health of the country.
  • On the March 1 broadcast of ABC's This Week, Rove echoed House Republicans' distortion of research by White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) chairwoman Christine Romer and her husband in claiming that the GOP's alternative stimulus bill “produced 50 percent more jobs at half the cost” of President Obama's economic recovery plan. Rove claimed: "[T]he House Republicans took their plan and ran it through the Obama chairman of the economic advisers' econometric model -- Romer. And it produced 50 percent more jobs at half the cost, according to the economic model used by the Obama White House." As the blog Think Progress noted, according to the White House, “Romer's view is that the House analysis is absolutely incorrect” and “the plan the President supports would result in substantially greater job creation than the House Republican plan.”
  • In his February 5 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rove also echoed the myth that the economic recovery bill directed funds to ACORN, writing of the House-passed economic recovery bill: “And it should not shock Americans that Democratic appropriators would funnel tax dollars to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.”
  • During the January 23 broadcast of Hannity, Rove falsely asserted that "[t]he Army Field Manual, for example, prohibits you from using good cop-bad cop in interrogating." Rove made the false claim while discussing Obama's January 22 executive order stating that a detainee in U.S. custody or control “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3 (Manual).” In fact, the Army Field Manual explicitly permits good cop-bad cop interrogations under the name of “Mutt and Jeff” interrogations, which involve two interrogators “display[ing] opposing personalities and attitudes toward the source.”

From Rove's April 8 Wall Street Journal column:

The Pew Research Center reported last week that President Barack Obama “has the most polarized early job approval of any president” since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This “approval gap” is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election.

Part of Mr. Obama's polarized standing can be attributed to a long-term trend. University of Missouri political scientist John Petrocik points out that since 1980, each successive first term president has had more polarized support than his predecessor with the exception of 1989, when George H.W. Bush enjoyed a modest improvement over Ronald Reagan's 1981 standing.

But rather than end or ameliorate that trend, Mr. Obama's actions and rhetoric have accelerated it. His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that “I won.”

From the April 6 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Turning to political news, there's hard evidence tonight that President Obama is a more polarizing president than any other over the past four decades. Polling data compiled by Pew Research shows a 61-percent gap between Democratic and Republican support for the president. The president has 88-percent support among Democrats; only 27-percent support among Republicans. And our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows an even larger spread: 65 percent between Democratic and Republican support.

The poll shows 95 percent of Democrats support the president; 30 percent of Republicans support him.

From the April 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight. Can the Republicans find a leader? And that is the subject of this evening's “Talking Points Memo.”

Writing in The Wall Street Journal today, Karl Rove points out that President Obama's job-approval rating among independents has dropped nine points in a month to 52 percent. Also, the president has polarized Americans. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats approve, but only 27 percent of Republicans like the job he's doing. That gap is 10 points larger than the one President Bush had coming off the controversial election of 2000.

Now, the problem for those Americans disapproving of President Obama is where do they go? At this point, the Republican Party does not have a high-profile leader. And the campaign that Senator McCain ran was woefully ineffective. The Obama machine laced him on almost every front.