Media Blows Another Story

[ Posted Thursday, August 19th, 2010 – 18:30 UTC ]

There's a mini-tizzy in the media world today after a new poll was released which stated that eighteen percent of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim. "Golly gee! How could they think that?" is the overwhelming tone of most of this media tizziness. Only one article I've seen (so far), though, correctly points the finger where it belongs: at the media themselves.

Greg Sargent's The Plum Line blog on today pointed this out, in no uncertain terms:

Everyone is obsessing over that new Pew poll finding that the number who think Obama is a Muslim has risen to nearly one-fifth of Americans.

But here's an amazing nugget buried in the poll's internals: A solid majority of those who believe that say they "learned" it from the media. The poll asked this question of those who maintain he's a Muslim:

And how did you learn about Barack Obama's religion?

60 Media
11 Obama's behaviors or his own words
7 Things heard or read (non-specific)
7 Internet
6 Things heard or read during presidential campaign
4 Views of family or friends
4 Obama's ancestry -- family background, name, appearance
1 My own opinion
1 Obama's policies towards Muslim countries or religion in the U.S.

Until now the common explanation for this phenomenon has been to blame it on viral Internet campaigns and word of mouth. But as you can see from the above, only seven percent of those who believe Obama is a Muslim say they learned it from the Internet, and a substantial majority cites the media as their primary source.

Well, that clears that up. Or it would, if anyone in the media other than Sargent would mention it. In all the hundreds of stories written and broadcast about this poll, I would wager that most of them (if not "almost all of them") refuse to report this simple fact. I just watched NBC's broadcast news tonight, and they did a little segment on the numbers, with Chuck Todd. Todd even interviewed (for one tiny soundbite) someone from Pew, who conducted the poll. The 60 percent figure? Never mentioned. Wasn't germane to the story, as far as NBC was concerned.

I don't mean to single NBC out, as they're merely one bad example in a whole slew of them today (one that I happened to watch). PBS also failed to mention it, for instance, in their nightly news hour. And I will give the media a tiny amount of credit for stating unequivocally -- over and over again -- "Obama is not a Muslim. Obama is a Christian." But it really is closing the barn door after the horse is long gone, in some ways.

Media used to be fairly simple. There were newspapers and magazines, radio and television news. They used to be fact-based. Opinions were for "light news" shows or for the editorial pages. Then cable news arrived, and the lines have been blurred ever since. The internet and the advent of blogging just increased this blurring. When news shows were seen as money-losers that networks put on the air in the interests of public service (yes, there really was such a time), what mattered was the facts. Now that they are all ratings-driven and profit-margin-obsessed, the news has become little more than entertainment for adults. Whatever grabbed the most eyeballs was seen as the "best" news show.

At some point along this trail, due in large part by a concerted effort by conservatives to portray the news media as "left-wing liberals," the journalists just gave up on deciding (or ferreting out) what was true and what was manure. They just put up "one side" of the debate, versus the "other side" of the debate, and everything was treated equally, with no judgments given on what was factual and what was a lie.

Due to this mass abdication of responsibility on the part of the news media, we are where we are today. There are no more "facts" that exist on a background of reality, there are "facts" that the right believes and "facts" which the left believes, and the journalists just goad the two sides to bicker at each other without ever attempting to play the part of a referee and call fouls where appropriate.

To tell the truth, I'm actually kind of surprised that more than eighteen percent of Americans don't believe Obama's a Muslim. After all, one-fifth of America believes that states have the right to secede (as well as many other amusing things).

But I am not surprised that only seven percent of people answering the question got their false notion about the president's religion from the internet, and almost nine times as many -- six in ten of those believing this lie -- got their information from the media. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I'm not surprised in the least by those numbers.

I am also not surprised -- not one tiny little bit -- that virtually everyone in the media conveniently forgot to mention in their "reporting" about this story, by professional "journalists," that sixty percent of those believing a falsehood had learned this falsehood through the media themselves. Not one tiny little bit.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Media Blows Another Story”

  1. [1] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    To tell the truth, I'm actually kind of surprised that more than eighteen percent of Americans don't believe Obama's a Muslim.

    I'll bet there are many, many more out there who do. When a social hot-button question is asked, a lot of people don't admit how they truly feel because they've learned from this "politically correct" society that it's simpler just to keep certain things under their hat. And if the research question is being asked by a human (vs. a recording), people are even more likely to just give the socially acceptable response: some, because they don't want to feel like they're being judged by the person on the other end of the phone; other people feel guilty to admit aloud that they hold what society deems as "intolerant" attitudes.

    The speech police have been very effective in shutting people up. The down side of that, of course, is that you're not necessarily getting an accurate read on public sentiment re: a whole host of topics.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Chris1962 -

    An interesting thing I've been hearing -- which nobody'll know is true or not until election day, of course -- is that there may be a "reverse Bradley" effect out here in polling on the Prop 19 question (legalizing marijuana). It's been posited pretty much exactly what you're talking about -- who the heck (after decades of War On Drugs hype) is going to say on the phone to some stranger "I support legalization!"?

    Like I said, it'll be impossible to tell, even after the election (hard to prove any causal relation), but an interesting point.


  3. [3] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Yeah, that sounds like a perfect example.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Something confuses me here..

    It's only logical or natural that 60% say the media. How else do people get information about the President??

    I mean, look at all the next 4 listings:

    11 Obama's behaviors or his own words
    7 Things heard or read (non-specific)
    7 Internet
    6 Things heard or read during presidential campaign

    All of those are ALSO media driven, unless the respondent happens to have daily personal experience with the President...

    The real question here is WHY did the percentage of people who think that Obama is a Muslim increase??

    Did more Americans just get dumber??

    Of course not...

    It's because Obama's actions of late have been against the best interests of the country..

    And more people assumed that meant he must be a Muslim..

    Now, I grant you. Against the interests of the country = Muslim is a moronic stance to take.

    But to blame the Media because they don't say over and over "Obama is a Christian, Obama is a Christian" is re-dicka-less.. :D

    Let me put it this way..

    Is it possible that the Media has done it's job and reported the actions of the President of late and that it was the people who formed their own opinions based on what they saw in the Media?

    Or, put another way..

    Has there been any reporting in the Media of late that has been unfair or inaccurate that would have contributed to the growth in people who believe Obama is a Muslim??

    Far be it from me to actually defend the media... But let's not automagically make them scapegoats just because people formed opinions that are highly inaccurate...

    I bet that if you polled people who STILL think that Obama is the second-coming and can walk on water, you would get the same sort of percentages regarding how that opinion was formed..

    Or maybe I am just missing the whole point. :D


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:
  6. [6] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    These are the figures I find interesting, Michale, from an ABC News article:

    African-Americans, who voted for Obama overwhelmingly, have shown a similar shift. In March 2009, 36 percent of African-Americans said they didn't know the president's religion. That number is now 46 percent. Self-described liberal Democrats who don't know what religion the president is shifted from 23 percent to 31 percent.

    Did 10% of African-Americans and 8% of liberals suddenly forget? Or are they having their doubts, for whatever the reason.

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