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Poll-Vaulting At The Times


For several weeks now the Monitor has put off writing a review of Bias, the blockbuster book by former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg. As the number one non-fiction best-seller in the country, Bias has been praised and panned, in print and on the air, so many times over that there seemed to be nothing new the monitor could add.

But then along came The New York Times on Sunday, Jan. 27, with a front-page story so unmistakably skewed and, well, biased, that the Monitor decided the public could live with yet another treatment of the Goldberg book.

That’s for next week, though; first we’ll look at how the Times took the results of a poll it conducted and, by selective reporting and dishonest writing, fashioned it into a club with which to engage in its favorite ideological pastime – relentlessly beating on President Bush and the Republican party.

The Monitor, thankfully, was not alone in gagging on the Times’s unusually tendentious interpretation of the poll’s findings. Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus, former editors at The New Republic who these days run their own websites, both weighed in with sharp attacks on the Times. (Sullivan is politically more conservative than Kaus, though neither comes close to qualifying for membership in Hillary Clinton’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.)

As Sullivan put it, “The only word for the way in which The New York Times constructed and presented its poll Sunday… is propaganda. This wasn’t just liberal bias. It was a real slide downhill.”

The basis for the headline ‘”Poll Finds Enron’s Taint Clings More to G.O.P. than Democrats” – the Times put on its story, Sullivan noted, was this singular question: “From what you know so far, do you think the executives of the Enron corporation had closer ties to members of the Republican party or closer ties to members of the Democratic party?”

While it’s true that 45 percent of those polled answered “Republicans,” 10 percent said “Democrats,” another 10 percent ventured “both equal” and 34 percent didn’t know or wouldn’t respond, there was actually no surprise or news story here at all. Ask the public that question about any corporation, said Sullivan, and odds are that at least a plurality will pick the party perceived as friendlier to business – in other words, the Republicans.

But notice, Sullivan added, that the question says nothing about any “taint,” that ugly word in the story’s headline. Further, when the Times asked its respondents a real “taint”-related question – whether Enron contributions to congressmen would affect their vote – 61 percent answered that such contributions would in fact make no difference.

“I’m sorry, but this is a very thin reed on which to rest a Sunday headline about the public pinning the Enron scandal on Republicans,” Sullivan wrote. “That’s what the Times wants you to think. It has nothing to do with the news – or their own poll – whatsoever.”

Beyond the Times’s transparent attempt at using its poll to spin the news on Enron, the paper did its best to shield Democrats from some of the poll’s more strikingly negative findings.

For example, Times reporter Richard Berke claimed that “The poll also found that the Republicans’ drive to make a high-profile villain of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has not succeeded.” But wait, let’s go to the numbers: Daschle’s unfavorability rating as registered in the poll had doubled – from 7 to 15 percent – since last June. (His approval rating remained stuck at 11 percent.)

As Sullivan pointedly asked, “Now think for a minute what is in the mind of someone who literally thinks this data means the campaign to drive up Daschle’s unfavorability has ?not succeeded.’ ”

There’s much more to be said about the Times’s three-card-monty style of reporting on the poll, but space precludes the Monitor from doing so. (The detailed results of the 74-question survey were only available on the Times’s website on Jan. 27 – but had mysteriously disappeared by the following day.)

Readers interested in further analysis of the poll are urged to go to www.kausfiles.com.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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