Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spin Control

Our discourse is so warped, jaded and spun that we sometimes can’t even see the spinning wheel behind the bias. Such was my thought when I linked to Athenae’s post rewriting Liz Sidoti yesterday , and such is my thought as I read Eugene Robinson on the New York mosque issue today.

The money quote:
A CNN poll showed that 68 percent of Americans opposed a plan by "a group of Muslims in the U.S." to build "a mosque" two blocks from the World Trade Center site. I wonder what the results might look like if pollsters had phrased the question differently -- if they had asked, say, whether "a group of Americans" should be allowed to build "a center promoting moderate, peaceful Islam."

Yes, one wonders, doesn’t one? CNN didn’t phrase the question that way, though. They took the Republican talking point--ZOMG! A mosque! Near Ground Zero!--and used that as the basis of their poll. They reinforced the prevailing narrative which came straight out of Frank Luntz’s Little Shoppe Of Bullshit. We see this time and time again with issues as serious as war and healthcare policy or as silly as a “beer summit” and Lindsay Lohan’s jail time.

Public opinion polls are for the most part meaningless drivel which allow the news media to pretend to cover an issue without actually covering it. They can cover the spin, not the facts. It’s laziness disguised as crack journalism.

Here’s an interesting thought:

So now, whenever I see the results of a poll that pretends to speak for the “majority” of Americans, I wonder how that poll question could have been framed differently to achieve a completely opposite result.

When I read “88% of Americans don’t like their government,” I wonder what the results would be for a poll that asked, “Would you prefer to live in a country without roads, schools, laws, police and pollution controls?”

When I see “80 percent like the insurance they have now,” I picture a poll asking, “Do you want an insurance plan that raises its rates without warning, decides what illnesses can and cannot be covered and can cut off your coverage at any time?”

We don’t see polls like that, of course. But next time you read of a CNN (or USA Today or any other poll), you might, just for shits and giggles, rewrite the poll questions in your head.