Working the Polls, Part 3
CNSNews.com whacks a TV network for selectively reporting poll results -- while it reports on a poll whose results were bought and paid for.
By Terry Krepel
Scott Hogenson really ought to know better.
The executive editor of CNSNews.com spent a March 7 column in liberal-media-bashing mode, accusing CBS of downplaying positive poll results regarding President Bush and the impending war in Iraq. "The fact that this poll was released in the hours before Bush took questions from the media in a rare, primetime news conference, also suggests that CBS is less interested in conveying a snapshot of public opinion than advancing its own agenda," he writes.
Why, you'd think that using a news operation to advance a political agenda was a bad thing. Yet that's what Hogenson's own news operation does frequently on topics from abortion to Otto Reich. And Hogenson is certainly no stranger to selective reporting of polls.
That's warning sign number one. (So much for not advancing an agenda.) Warning sign number two is that Hall also quoted a Planned Parenthood official about a poll they conducted, but they didn't get their press release posted on CNSNews.com. (So much for balance.)
And here's warning sign number three: The poll was conducted by Zogby International.
Zogby has long been touted by conservatives for polls that producing more conservative-friendly results than other pollsters. But, as the American Prospect reports, Zogby also frequently sells its services to clients, including many conservative organizations. As Chris Mooney writes: "Numerous Zogby Polls for various special interests have relied on creative phrasing to give the impression of wide public support for the view that the given client is promoting."
In other words, the conservative groups that make up the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health wanted a poll that would portray a certain outcome, and paid Zogby to achieve that. If the poll had produced a different outcome, the coalition would never have publicized it and CNSNews.com would not have been so generous with its coverage.
Indeed, the poll's criteria is stated on the site's front page: "Zogby created questions using verbatim the topics contained in the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education" and other similar guidelines. "Just as the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health suspected, parents overwhelmingly reject comprehensive sex education when they understand what this education teaches their children."
What a surprise. Most people are uncomfortable discussing sex, so it stands to reason that having words like "masturbation," "penis" and "vagina" come up in a survey would also bother people.
The coalition has tried to answer such criticism by posting a letter from Zogby International president John Zogby on its site. "In short, we feel the questions were fair," he wrote. "These questions were not provocative at all. They reflect to some degree what is going on in some sex education classes and point to a need to bring parents into the conversation, course planning and family discussion."
Then, in showing how the poll demonstrated a need for parental involvement, Zogby contradicts himself on the whole "not provocative" thing. He notes that "there was majority support ... for teaching how contraceptives (especially condoms) are used. However, when teaching condom use was put into more graphic terms, support plummeted." The actual question Zogby used (No. 24) is: "Please state your level of approval or disapproval if your middle-schjool-aged child (ages 12 to 15) would be asked to unroll a condom and practice putting it on his or her fingers, a banana or a wooden model of a penis." That's not provocative?
Hogenson concluded his article by writing: "Polls are conducted for any number of legitimate reasons. The news media routinely use them for copy and fodder, and policy-makers pay varying amounts of attention to the results. But polls and how they are reported can also be used for illegitimate reasons, one of which is a news organization's portrayal of the data to move an agenda instead of just looking for the news and reporting it."
If Hogenson thinks that's so horrible, why doesn't he stop doing it?