Media Malpractice

I think I have been more than fair to the media and their polling. I accept that Romney is a bit behind, but acknowledge that a number of polls have a higher Democratic margin than the turn out in 2008. I think it is unfortunate that major media players would rather insult conservatives who take issue with that then explain why it is so and how they are arriving at their polling results.


I would note that there are a number of polls that show Romney a couple of points behind that have a more reasonable Democrat to Republican ratio. But I wish the media would explain, instead of insult conservatives, why there is such a gap. Last night on twitter, Chuck Todd was ridiculing people who believe there is a media conspiracy. Meanwhile, his own network has dragged its feet on coverage of the administration’s disastrous handling of Libya and, well, he works for MSNBC.

Perhaps instead of being insulting, he, a former staffer for Tom Harkin’s Presidential campaign and whose wife was or is a Democratic operative, should acknowledge conservative distrust of the media and try to explain how the polls are shaped, skewed, weighted or not, and the general methodology.

Along the lines of the media’s seeming outright contempt for voters, conservatives, and news consumers in general, we should look no further this morning than yesterday’s media malpractice by the Washington Post, yet again involving poll data.

Several polls came out yesterday showing a tighter race than last week. CNN has a three point gap. Washington Post/ABC News has a two point gap. The Battleground Poll (one of my personal favorites) has a two point gap. In fact, all three polls have Romney at 47%.


But what is so striking is how the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, the paper’s polling director, chose to shape the narrative of their story.

Nationally, the race is unmoved from early September, with 49 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for Obama if the election were held today and 47 percent saying they would vote for Romney. Among all registered voters, Obama is up by a slim five percentage points, nearly identical to his margin in a poll two weeks ago.

But 52 percent of likely voters across swing states side with Obama and 41 percent with Romney in the new national poll, paralleling Obama’s advantages in recent Washington Post polls in Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

The paragraph on swing states consumed conversations online and offline yesterday. The paragraph was intentional — it highlighted that nationally the race is close, but emphasized the irrelevance of national polling when the focus should be on swing states, which will decide the election. In the Washington Post’s view, the race isn’t really close at all in the swing states.

But Jon Cohen is largely full of it and I think it is a fair and accurate statement to say he and Dan Balz’s write up is an act of media malpractice. Why?

Because Jon Cohen had to reveal exactly how they came up with their swing state data and it is an embarrassing display of peddling bullcrap.


In short, the Washington Post conducted a national poll and discovered that 161 of those surveyed lived in swing states. Charitably — and Cohen does not break it down — that would work out to 20 voters polled in each of 8 swing states. TWENTY!!!

So there’s an 11 point gap among 161 people with a margin of error of around 8%. But the Washington Post reported this as a fact and only subsequently admitted

That margin is significant at the 80 percent confidence level, not a standard, conservative 95 percent threshold, which we take as added evidence of the state-of-play in state polling, and the crucial link between those and the national numbers (49 percent for Obama, 47 percent for Romney). No such dissection of a national poll — no matter how many interviews — could be anything more than that. They are simply not designed that way.

Most conservatives view most members of the press as willing collaborators with the Obama Administration. Many independents also distrust the media. It is stuff like this that fuels the rage against a press that routinely refuses to acknowledge that it really does, collectively, lean left of center.

It does not help matters when large portions of the press, as the situation in Libya unfolded, decided to spend more time accusing Mitt Romney of gaffes than either defending the first amendment relating to that idiotic video or actually reporting on just how screwed up the White House’s response was — objectively so we now know.


It does not help when the media would rather act with an air of superiority about polls than explain the methodology.

It sure as hell does not help when the media reports on swing state polling extrapolated from national polling only to later — on a blog within the paper — have to report that in fact the poll only dealt with 161 people in eight swing states at an 80% confidence level at the same time conservatives and independents are calling bullcrap on more and more media polls.

Here’s the thing I come away with in the way the media has conducted itself thus far in Campaign 2012 — when it is all over, the media will yet again lament it was too poll driven, as media critics have done in each postmortem of campaigns going back more than a decade and then the media will refuse to ever acknowledge just how one sided and biased its reporting is because of (A) close ties to and friendships with the Obama campaign and Democrats in general, e.g. Stephanie Cutter, Bill Burton, and Dan Pfeiffer’s then wife (all of Team Obama) attended Jon Cohen’s wedding in 2010* and (B) an institutional liberal heritage where reporters are increasingly likely to come from left-wing publications and be blessed into mainstream “objective” reporting without ever reshaping their world view.


*Republicans attended to, but that’s not the point here. You may consider this irrelevant or want to point out a bipartisan attendance, but a great many conservatives and independents would not view this as an irrelevant fact and a failure on your part to acknowledge it is actually part of the problem the media and the DC-NYC corridor on both sides of the aisle refuse to recognize in their growing disconnect from the rest of the nation.


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