Friday, September 29, 2006

Scripps 9/11 poll: 36% of Americans Easily Misled

It's an old poll, from early August, but it's not getting the attention it deserves. Some random thoughts:

-Where are these 36%? I've never met any. I've seen hundreds online, but I don't consider that meeting someone. You can't meet someone online, you can only write to them.

-I have a theory about polls: they're never truly representative because they necessarily only sample people with nothing better to do than answer some random questions from a stranger.

-Some media is liberal-biased, some is conservative-biased. Occasionally, completely by accident, media is fair-minded and objective. I don't really see it as a problem. It's the free market and a free press. If you want to keep the press free you have to accept bias. I think we should spend less time worrying about journalistic dishonesty and more time worrying about journalistic stupidity.

Journalistic Dishonesty is here to stay, it's part of our media culture. If we passed some (inevitably ineffective) laws to regulate journalistic integrity it would only give us an excuse to look at news stories less critically. It would make us more credulous and journalists more insidious. I prefer having the understanding that, no matter what the source, they have an agenda and they'll frame their stories to fit the agenda.

Check out this graph from the article I linked: "Anger Mounting Toward Government".

Notice anything stupid or dishonest? Since you're obviously smart enough to have come here in the first place, I probably don't need to point out that this graphic apparently has a random time scale. 2 years, 1 year, 3 years, then 5 years. It wasn't enough to show that anger towards the federal government is at an all-time high - among people with nothing better to do than answer random questions from strangers - the author of the graphic also had to compress the time scale to make it look like anger towards government is skyrocketing, rather than returning to slightly higher than normal levels after 9/11 pulled the country together. Supidity or dishonesty?

On the side of dishonesty we have the fact that the graphic could be construed to support a liberal bias (Look how divisive Bush is!) or even a conservative bias (Government is raging out of control, pissing people off).

On the side of stupidity we have the fact that it's possible Scripps only asked this question in the years reported on the graphic, and that Chris Campbell blithely plugged the dates in without checking the increments.

Since the article doesn't bother to print - or even link to - the source data we have no way of knowing. I'm going to give Scripps the benefit of the doubt and assume it's dishonesty.

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