Friday, January 04, 2008

Iowa Polling Trends Show: Polls Are Out, Voters Are In

In the final days before the Iowa Caucus, the results of which either mean everything or nothing depending on which candidate you like, or commentator you follow, the wisdom from the media was that voters were pulling back from GOP leader Mike Huckabee and returning to the Mitt Romney camp.

On the Democratic side the race supposedly was too close to call. Uh-huh.

In addition, John McCain was surging while Fred Thompson, who was within a percentage point of McCain was struggling. Again, Uh-huh. In fact, one newscaster portrayed Thompson as bringing up the rear, way, way back with Ron Paul, a Libertarian running as a Republican using Democratic talking points.

Well, as the results now show, Democrats were backing Obama in a big way, while on the Republican side Huckabee's lead was intact all the way. Mitt Romney may or may not have to fall on his sword now, and the struggling Fred Thompson bested John McCain, reversing their positions in the percentage game, which the media now claims puts them in a tie!

What does this tell us?

Neither the media nor the polls can be trusted. But that isn't news is it?

We have known this for a long, long time and across the board the media showed Thursday that it has its favorites and will do almost anything to ensure that they get the nod.

Didn't work though did it?

Probably the most grievous example of media bias came from Fox News and its apparent dislike of Thompson.

I spent a 20-year career in the media as reporter, copy editor, layout editor, news editor, business editor, supervising editor and columnist. One of the most basic tenets of journalism 101 that was hammered into my brain from the very first day, was that you never, ever print a rumor.

Rumors are just that, rumors, not news. If someone drops a hint to a reporter it is a rumor until the reporter confirms the FACT behind the rumor with a minimum of two reliable sources. Note that I said confirm the fact behind the rumor, not that someone else heard the rumor too.

Then, and only then, you go to the subject of the rumor and ask for a response to use in a news story. If you approach the subject with a rumor and ask for a comment and they say it is untrue, you are stuck without a story unless you can confirm the rumor.

But only hours before Iowans went out to caucus, Fox News aired a rumor that Fred Thompson's campaign would fold if he placed fourth, and that he was releasing his delegates to the McCain camp. Thompson himself squelched this rumor, which should have been the end of it, and it never should have gone on the air, but it did.

The rumor was repeated at the 6 p.m. newscast, and this time Thompson's spokeswoman Mary Matalin, who is probably the most competent, experienced GOP strategist and media person out there, appeared on Fox to again deny that there was any substance to this claim whatsoever.

So why did Fox run it?

Most media I deal with during political campaigns have a two-day cutoff for running any new or controversial issues, simply because it isn't fair to the candidates, can give false impressions with no time to counter them, and can affect close races. This is called journalistic ethics.

But running with a rumor that turned out to have no basis in fact only hours before people go out to vote is nothing less that journalistic sabotage.

I am very happy that Fred Thompson is surging because I like his message and his stand on the issues. I am equally happy that Mike Huckabee had a good night in Iowa because of his stand on the Fair Tax, and that John McCain is still in the running, since he has supported other national candidates for whom I have worked in the past, and he is a fellow Vietnam Veteran.

I don't think Mitt Romney's second place finish last night puts him out of the race at all, and lest anyone forget, Rudy Giuliani is no pushover and he is sitting down in Florida ready to do battle with the entire field in a state with a huge delegate count.

Aside from the GOP and Democratic candidates who dropped out after a poor showing in Iowa, the only candidate I am giving no chance to is Ron Paul. He not only finished fifth, but he did it in a state where any registered voter can vote in the caucus of either party.

When Paul runs in a state where only Republicans can vote in Republican primaries I don't expect to see much from him. Ron Paul says he raised a ton of money from the Internet but that was not reflected in Iowa's voting, the one place where he could have made a huge impact if money really translates to votes.

But whatever my personal feelings on the candidates, the one thing I really dislike is an obvious attempt by any media outlet to manipulate the vote or the voters.

To fully understand how upset I was with Fox News last night, consider this ... as a Vietnam veteran, there is no media outlet that has less credibility to me than CNN. Yet I switched over to CNN for results, since Fox couldn't seem to get over the fact that Thompson was running ahead of McCain for most of the evening and ended up a few hundred votes ahead.

At least I got to see Bill Bennett opine on CNN that Barack Obama should watch his back and his kneecaps after putting a beat down on Hillary Clinton. I'm paraphrasing this but essentially Bennett said the Clinton's play hardball and Obama should tread very carefully from here out.

I have said in this column many times that Fox is the network I watch for news and opinion. Brit Hume's Special Report is a fixture for me, as is Chris Wallace's Fox News Sunday. I value the opinions of Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Juan Williams, Mara Liasson, Nina Easton, Hume and Mort Kondracke to name just a few - even when I don't agree with them.

I have said previously that I consider Brit Hume to be the Walter Cronkite of this generation, except that he is honest where Cronkite - Uncle Walter and The Most Trusted Man in America - was unethical.

But what I saw on Fox yesterday taints the news department and similarly taints every single commentator who appears on Fox political shows. If there is a problem between Fox News and the Thompson campaign, then the ethical thing to do is come out with it and let Fox viewers know what is going on.

Nina Easton makes a point every time she appears that her husband is working on the Romney campaign, so why is the news department not following her lead?

America's voters will decide who is to be the next president, and the great thing is that we still have so many candidates from whom to choose. I believe people are taking a good hard look at the candidates, and yes, they are seeking change, although I don't believe it is the change Obama, Clinton and Edwards are talking about.

There is a place for editorializing, and that is where opinions should stay. What we need from the media is straight reporting.

The polls are only a general view of what is going on in the world around us, and all too often reflect the views of only a very small segment of the population that is preselected to deliver a preselected viewpoint. If you talk about the polls out in the general population, the one thing you hear most often is, "I've had a telephone my entire life and I have never been called by a pollster."

So the public is onto the polls, as was shown last night in Iowa. The public is onto the news media too, even those outlets that claim to be presenting a balanced view of the news.


James said...

Part of the issue with Ron Paul is that he hasn't spent much of the money he's raised. In many ways, I think that's very shrewd. At this point, the other candidates are starting to run out of gas.

I think that Ron Paul can be a potent force in states where conservatism tends to have a very libertarian bent to it-- e.g. New Hampshire and Nevada.

You watch... from what I can see, Ron Paul's strategy is to build up a war chest that can carry him past Super Tuesday. Ultimately, what did in McCain the first time wasn't just losing South Carolina-- it was losing South Carolina and running out of money.

The other piece of this is market penetration. Ron Paul has not yet achieved the market penetration of Rudy Guiliani or Mitt Romney. Something often overlooked is that Huckabee's advance in Iowa coincided with Chuck Norris's support for him. Support from Norris helped to increase media attention and market penetration.

Mitt Romney did as well as he did in Iowa because (a) he bought name recognition with ads and (b) enlisted much of the Iowa republican establishment, as early as the fall of '06- well before Fred Thompson was a declared candidate. New Hampshire will be a free for all. So will Nevada.

But there's a reason why Ron Paul's campaign is holding on to its cash-- Ron Paul will be the kingmaker or the king. Unlike the other candidates, if he drops out, he will be courted for his cash as well as his delegates. At which point, it will be time to make a deal-- receive his support by adopting his platform-- sound money, fiscal responsibility, and limited federal government.

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