Jul 23 2008

Washington Post Responds to FAIR’s Criticism Over Poll Question

A FAIR Action Alert on July 15 encouraged readers to ask the Washington Post why it asked a misleading poll question about Obama and McCain’s positions on the Iraq War. The question, which framed the candidates’ positions as two different “approaches” to withdrawal, led the paper to conclude that the country was “split down the middle between those backing Sen. Barack Obama’s 16-month timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and those agreeing with Sen. John McCain’s position that events, not timetables, should dictate when forces come home.”

Post ombud Deborah Howell dismissed FAIR’s criticism without addressing FAIR’s argument. Howell wrote (7/20/08):

Liberal websites were critical of a Washington PostABC News poll question they said favored McCain on Iraq. The question: “Obama has proposed a timetable to withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of his taking office. McCain has opposed a specific timetable and said events should dictate when troops are withdrawn. Which approach do you prefer — a timetable or no timetable?” The question didn’t seem unfair to me.

The Post‘s White House Watch columnist, Dan Froomkin, had a different take. In an online discussion with readers on July 16, Froomkin cited FAIR’s criticism in response to a reader’s bafflement over the Post article’s conclusions. The reader asked:

According to a new Washington Post poll, our country is evenly split on the strategy for moving forward on Iraq. It is a stat that fills me with despair. What can antiwar advocates like myself do to let people know that our Iraqi incursion is destroying our economy, is not a “war” we can “win,” and remains a boon for war profiteers and energy conglomerates, to our — and Iraq’s — detriment? Are Americans really this ignorant, or have the media and the Democratic majority done a horrendous job of stating the case for pulling out?

Froomkin replied:

Well, there’s another possibility, which is that the question wasn’t ideally phrased. Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, the liberal media watchdogs, argue that the question did not correctly describe McCain’s position. And if you look at Iraq polling generally you’ll see that a large majority of the public wants most if not all of our troops out very soon indeed.

FAIR thanks the activists who wrote to the paper.