Accuracy in Media

Polls are among the most telling expressions of bias in the media. They are very often agenda-driven, used to make a political point, or to pile on a favorite target. The most controversial and flawed poll that has been most cited in recent weeks has been the CBS News poll finding that President Bush’s approval rating was down to 34%. But another poll, purporting to find that U.S. troops are weary of the Iraq War or want a premature withdrawal, is also suspect.

Once again, CBS’s Public Eye website, the blog/ombudsman run by a different division of CBS, provided a great service to its readers. In this case it exposed the problems inherent in the CBS poll finding Bush at a very low 34 percent approval.  The poll was based on a sampling of 1018 “adults,” rather than likely voters, and the sampling was top heavy with Democrats, 409, against only 272 Republicans, which is a ratio of approximately 40% to 27%. After adjusting for the imbalance through a process called “weighting,” the results of the poll now show that the sampling was 37% Democrats, 28% Republicans, and 35% independents. The number of Democrats was inflated to get a more dramatic anti-Bush result.

But when the New York Times refers to the poll, it makes no mention of how the poll is weighted or what the sampling was. Only that Bush’s approval rating was a miserable 34% was highlighted. In other polls taken over the same period, Bush’s approval rating was as high as 46% and, according to the highly regarded Real Clear Politics, was an average of 39.8%. But over and over, on Meet the Press, Chris Matthew’s Hardball, and many other shows, Bush’s approval rating was stated as the much lower 34%. Not surprisingly, even the North Korean Times trumpeted Bush’s low ratings.

Another recent poll that has raised eyebrows was a Zogby International poll supposedly showing that 72 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq support troop withdrawal from Iraq within the next year. One in four, according to the poll, called for the military to leave immediately. It said that 42% of the 944 military people questioned for the poll said the U.S. mission in Iraq is hazy, while 58% say it’s clear.

But these findings are suspect for several reasons, as pointed out by Bruce Kesler of the Democracy Project. The questions asked, the methodology used, and the demographics of the military people questioned are not known. Normally there is at least the representation of transparency but that doesn’t exist here. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said he had been informed about the methodology, off the record, a strange way to try to bolster the results.

Kristof, perhaps best known as the columnist who first publicized Joseph Wilson’s dubious claims about uranium from Africa, seized on the Zogby survey to say that it is “one more bit of evidence that our grim stay-the-course policy in Iraq has failed. Even the American troops on the ground don’t buy into it?and having administration officials pontificate from the safety of Washington about the need for ordinary soldiers to stay the course further erodes military morale.”

The Democracy Project also questions the survey co-sponsor, something called the Le Moyne College Center for Peace and Global Studies. Kesler said it is “a typical leftist campus creation.” And he questions the foreign policy predilections of Zogby, whose brother James is the president of the Arab American Institute.

For a different view of how the troops regard their mission in Iraq, consider Ralph Peters, a former military man who wrote a series of columns from Iraq in early March. He clearly has a different take on how the mission is going. He thinks we are making clear progress and that morale for our troops is high.

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