Janet Elder of the "All The News" paper has a laugh-out-loud story about what happens when the Times doesn't like a poll result - they bury it:
Same Old Question, Different Answer. Hmmm.
By Janet Elder
THE war in Iraq is the single most important continuing news issue right now. Public opinion about the war is a critical part of that story. That’s why when a finding about the war in a New York Times poll could not be easily explained, the paper went back and did another poll on the very same subject. It turns out the poll had gotten it right. Support for the initial invasion of Iraq, as measured by a question The New York Times/CBS News Poll has asked since December 2003, increased modestly compared with two months ago.
Well, I was duly shocked the second time around, when the Times finally reported it. But let's press on:
The Times and CBS News conducted a poll from July 9 to July 17 with 1,554 adults, mostly about Hillary Clinton. There were a few questions about the other presidential candidates, about President Bush and about the war, but most of the poll was about Mrs. Clinton.
The polling took place during a week when there was no shortage of news about the war. Congress was debating the war; the Bush administration issued a report saying the Iraqi government had failed to meet many of the benchmarks it was supposed to meet; and prominent Republicans were distancing themselves from Mr. Bush on Iraq.
In the poll, The Times and CBS News posed a standard question that asks respondents to think back to the invasion. Specifically, the poll asked: “Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the United States have stayed out?”
Forty-two percent of those polled said the United States did the right thing, and 54 percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq. The last time the question was asked, in May, 35 percent said taking military action against Iraq was the right thing and 61 percent said the United States should have stayed out.
The July numbers represented a change. It was counterintuitive. None of the other war-related questions showed change. Mr. Bush’s approval rating had not changed. Nor had approval of his handling of Iraq. The level of support for Mr. Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq — the “surge” — was about the same as it had been in past polls. Support for the decision to go to war had risen modestly and nothing else in the poll could explain it.
A Newsweek poll conducted July 11-12 had a similar finding for the same question. But the magazine had not asked its question since December, so it is hard to know whether its current reading measured any recent change.
Once in a while a poll finding doesn’t make sense. Sometimes The Times will wait to publish the results until another poll is taken asking the question again. But such a shift happens rarely with questions like this one, which the paper has asked many times over a long period.
What could explain the change? Perhaps, the answers about the war had inadvertently been influenced by placing them a few questions away from one about Mrs. Clinton’s not having repudiated her decision in 2002 to vote to authorize the war.
It was just a hunch, but it was all there was. Along with CBS News, The Times decided to poll again, to ask the war trend question without the possible influence of the question about Mrs. Clinton.
So let's see - this was interesting enough to justify a re-poll, even though a contemporaneous Newsweek poll offered support. But did they print the initial result as a news-making item of interest?
Please. In the latest reporting, the only two poll results mentioned are from May 18-23 and July 20-22; the earlier July result is unreported.
And might diligent readers of the initial "complete" Hillary poll have noted the eye-catching result? Again, don't be daft - the questions skip from number 97, about Hillary, to number 101, about Iraq. And question 101 is, paraphrased, "How are things going in the attempt to bring stability to Iraq?". That question is number 7 in the July 23 poll (ands shows a result for July 9-17); the "was invasion the right thing" query is number 6 in the July 23 poll.
So in their latest polling sequence, the "right thing" question immediately precedes the
"bring stability" question; in the July 19 poll, the numbers are out of sequence and the "right thing" is nowhere to be found.
Just as Ms. Elder has reported, the Times really did flush that first result down the memory hole.
Well. To be fair, the Times has featured the Janet Elder revelation on the front of the Week in Review, and apparently also ran it on July 25, so I suspect they have a sense that they will be catching flak for this. And there is a "damned if you do" factor here as well - publishing a curious poll result and then rebutting it in a new special poll would also have prompted howls of outrage.
But isn't it good to know that the Times will carefully suppress and doublecheck good news for Bush as it emerges? i know none of us want them to print good news for Bush only to have to run a correction (or confirmation!) a few days later.
And do any amongst us doubt that the Times would be equally diligent about sitting on good news for the Dems until it could be verified? I am sure they have done so many times, but just never called it to our attention, and of course there is really no way to monitor them - puzzling results seem to be pretty much fully suppressed, with only the question numbers available to indicate a missing question.
But really - where is the trust?
As to the underlying question - the latest Iraq film the Times is promoting seems to support the notion that the war in Iraq was winnable at the outset but lost due to ghastly mistakes in the initial post-liberation reconstruction phase (too few troops for security, de-B'aathification, disbanding the Iraqi army and breaking up the Iraqi leadership council spring to mind).
So maybe the idea that the invasion was plausible but the reconstruction was bungled is taking hold.