March 03, 2005

Misleading Headline Watch

So I log on and check the NYT website after work and am greeted with this headline: "New Poll Finds Bush Priorities Are Out of Step With Americans." I've been doing this too long, so my instinctual reaction is to stifle a giggle and burrow into the piece to spot the transparent spin (and isn't it Bashar who is "out of step" these days? Didn't anyone tell the Times?). It wasn't hard (to find the spin, that is):

The poll was the first conducted by The Times and CBS News since the president's inauguration. It comes after six hectic weeks for the administration, in which Mr. Bush has witnessed successful elections in Iraq - which he hailed as validation of his decision to remove Saddam Hussein - but also the toughest period he has encountered on Capitol Hill, as he has struggled to win support for the signature proposal of his second term.

In an apparent reflection of the success of the Iraq elections, 53 percent of those surveyed said that efforts to bring order to Iraq were going very or somewhat well, up from 41 percent a month ago. That is the highest rating on that score since the capture of Mr. Hussein.

Still, 42 percent now say that Mr. Bush would have been better off trying to counter the threat of North Korea before invading Iraq, compared with 45 percent who think Mr. Bush was correct to focus first on Iraq...The elections in Iraq have contributed to some improvement in the perception of Mr. Bush's policy there, though it remains far from popular. In this poll, 50 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of his Iraq policy, down from 55 percent a month ago, while 45 percent approved, up from 40 percent.

So let me get this straight. There has been a leap from 41% to 53% on how many polled view the Iraq effort, the major foreign policy issue of Bush's Presidency, positively. Might that not be the lede, at least on the foreign policy side of the story? No it's doom and gloomy with Bush woefully out of step with his countrymen, alas. Then we are told: "Still, 42 percent now say that Mr. Bush would have been better off trying to counter the threat of North Korea before invading Iraq, compared with 45 percent who think Mr. Bush was correct to focus first on Iraq." Still? I don't get it. A majority, that's 45%, thought Bush made the right call to go into Iraq first rather than North Korea. So why the "still"? Both poll results are pluses for Bush, the result on the NoKo vs. Iraq question should just flow from the positive uptick in support on Iraq from the previous sentence. But it's Adam Nagourney--so verbal contortions and spin come heavy. Next, we are treated to some awkward sentence constructs and numerical gymnastics: "In this poll, 50 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of his Iraq policy, down from 55 percent a month ago, while 45 percent approved, up from 40 percent." Why not write the sentence thus instead: "In this poll, 45 percent of those surveyed said they approved of his Iraq policy, up from 40%; while 50 disapproved, down from 55%." It's all in the emphasis, eh?

Then there's this:

And Mr. Bush does not appear to be much more in step with the nation on what the White House has long viewed as his strong suit: 58 percent of respondents said the White House did not share the foreign affairs priorities of most Americans.

I await the publication of the detailed polling data (not readily googable as of this hour) but will make this bold prediction. That 58% number will be unmoored from the full panoply of the polling results on matters foreign policy so that it's a rather unreliable indicator in context. I'll try to follow up tomorrow night on this point. Note too, of course, this poll is pre-Beirut's liberationist stirrings. It's sad when the auto-spin gets this predictable, no?


Posted by Gregory at March 3, 2005 04:57 AM | TrackBack (16)
Comments

The Times is now in the business of providing red meat to the yokels. They'll get a little boost of happiness from the headline.

Posted by: sammler at March 3, 2005 08:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"There has been a leap from 41% to 53% on how many polled view the Iraq effort, the major foreign policy issue of Bush's Presidency"

I think the major foreign policy issue is the GWOT, not Iraq, which, according to the Bush Administration, is just one part of the GWOT.

Posted by: Steve J. at March 3, 2005 09:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Since there is no real dispute over the GWOT and mucho disputo on Iraq I think we can say that Iraq is THE major fp issue of the admin ( so far )

Posted by: Pogue at March 3, 2005 02:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue: I would phrase that in exactly the opposite way. There is tremendous dispute over the "War on Terror", notably on whether the threat justifies American intervention in other countries -- such as Iraq. Disagreement over Iraq is, in large part, disagreement over the appropriate means to be used against terrorism.

Posted by: sammler at March 3, 2005 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"58 percent of respondents said the White House did not share the foreign affairs priorities of most Americans."

This statement would be a correct conclusion if 58% said the White House did not share THEIR foreign policy priorities. But, as written, the question is not about Bush at all. It's about the respondents' estimations of the priorities of other Americans and tells you nothing about what Bush is or is not in step with.

Posted by: Ignatius Byrd at March 3, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That the number of people who think efforts to bring order and security to Iraq are going well has increased does not mean the number of people who think Iraq ought to have been Job 1 has increased.
Also, 45% is not a majority. And as far as whether whether bias is signified by wording a sentence to emphasize that more Americans disapprove of the administration's Iraq policy than not, instead of the declining margin of that disapproval....

Well, maybe. My question is, so what? One of the things about Bush administration supporters and bloggers (two separate groups that sometimes overlap) that really sticks out is their brattiness, the speed with which they call for Mommy every time they think the other side is doing something unfair no matter how insignificant the unfairness is. I swear they sound like liberal Democrats to me, the way they cry "Victim! Victim!" all the time.

Posted by: Zathras at March 3, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've never believed in liberal bias of the media (the NYTimes, perhaps, but look where they are). Most often, complaints are due to the hostile media effect. Besides, our media is governed by the laws of the free market, and our market demands sensationalism.

I've long thought the root cause of this issue is short attention spans and media outlets having to compete with more and more sources of information. A misleading headline that grabs attention is better for a publication than an accurate headline that doesn't. It's also why bloggers that put a lot of thought and effort into a post don't get as much traffic or attention as bloggers like Instapundit and Atrios and Wonkette.

Posted by: fling93 at March 3, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

zathras, apologies for the brattiness. I'll try to be better--and not cast about for Mommy so much--going forward.

Posted by: greg at March 4, 2005 12:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's also why bloggers that put a lot of thought and effort into a post don't get as much traffic or attention as bloggers like Instapundit and Atrios and Wonkette."

See how he whines.

Posted by: praktike at March 4, 2005 02:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I loves to whine, but I was referring by implication to Greg's blog. I'm just a lightweight with a lot of strong opinions but not the knowledge to back it up. Hopefully, it'll be a different story in a few years.

Posted by: fling93 at March 4, 2005 08:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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