Sunday, October 17, 2004

Spinning soldiers 

I wasn't going to comment on it, but the media spin was just too unbelievable to let it pass.

Most of you are probably already aware of the poll conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey of US military personnel and their families. As "San Francisco Chronicle" reported in the first three paragraphs of the story, the poll's essential findings were:
"U.S. troops and their families have a more positive impression of their commander-in-chief and a more upbeat attitude about both Iraq and the United States than the general public does...

"Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they approved of the way President Bush was doing his job, compared with 49 percent in a sample of the general public collected during the same period.

"Similarly, 69 percent of survey respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the president, while just 29 percent had a favorable opinion of his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. That compared to a nationwide favorability rating of 49 percent for Bush and 44 percent for Kerry."
And later on in the piece:
"Forty-five percent of respondents rated the nation's economy as excellent or good, compared with 25 percent of the general public, and 61 percent rated their personal economic situation as excellent or good, compared with 48 percent of the general public.

"On the war in Iraq, 64 percent of respondents said they thought the situation in Iraq was worth going to war, compared with 45 percent of the general public. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the most frequently cited reason for going to war...

"[R]espondents believed Kerry does not have a clear plan in Iraq by a 4-to-1 margin."
You would have thought that this poll is good news for President Bush and a pretty strong endorsement of his leadership. Well, not that fast. Here's how other media outlets chose to portray the results:

Reuters titled its story "U.S. Military Faults Lack of Troops in Iraq - Poll" and led with these two paragraphs:
"A majority of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and their families said the Bush administration did not send enough forces to Iraq and relied too heavily on the National Guard and reserve troops, a poll showed on Saturday.

"Almost two-thirds of those surveyed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, or 65 percent, said they believed President Bush 'had underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq,' the poll said."
Tucked away safely in the ninth paragraph was the acknowledgment that "[d]espite those doubts, the military generally supports Bush and the efforts in Iraq." There was no evaluation on that point.

Agence France-Presse also chose to run on the "Military, families believe US sent too few troops into Iraq: poll" line, with the predictable opening para: "US military staff and their families believe the United States sent too few troops into Iraq and put too great a burden on inexperienced National Guard and reserve forces, even though they support George W. Bush's overall handling of Iraq, a poll showed."

The "New York Times" titled their piece "Troop Number in Iraq Too Low, Military Poll Says" and went on to say in the first two paragraphs:
"Almost two-thirds of American military personnel and their families responding to a new poll said the Bush administration underestimated the number of troops needed for the mission in Iraq, and more than half said that citizen-soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves were carrying too heavy a burden.

"The poll found that military personnel and their families overwhelmingly said they believed in the Iraq mission; 63 percent said they approved of the way President Bush was handling the situation in Iraq, and 33 percent said they disapproved."
It's in paragraph three that the story quoted Adam Clymer, political director of the survey (who happens to be a former political reporter for the "NYT") saying: "The military clearly likes President George W. Bush better than Senator John Kerry, and strongly believes in its mission in Iraq and his handling of it." Which you would not have gathered from reading the rest of the story.

(when the "New York Times" ran an earlier AP story about the poll, it was significantly more balanced: "Poll Finds Strong Support for Bush in U.S. Military".)

"Seattle Post-Intelligencer" similarly summed up the report as "Military families express some Iraq doubts", noting that
"Members of the military and their families say the Bush administration underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq and put too much pressure on inadequately trained National Guard and reserve forces, according to a poll released Saturday.

"This critical view comes from a military group that has a more favorable view of President Bush, Iraq, the economy and the nation's direction than Americans in general."
But there was no evaluation of these other results and the article blissfully gravitated back towards the negatives.

Other mainstream media sources provided more balanced and comprehensive view of the poll, among them "Washington Times", "Washington Post", and "Guardian". Not unexpectedly, local papers overall had more unbiased coverage (for example "Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette" and "Toledo Blade").

Another day, another spin.


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