The New York Times' hyped-up Enron coverage.

Political commentary and more.
Jan. 28 2002 6:09 AM

Enron's Got Nothing on Rick Berke!

The New York Times' hyped-up poll story.

(Continued from Page 1)

In a demonstration of how the public's concerns have shifted in recent weeks, the economy has now supplanted battling terrorism—albeit by a slight margin—as the issue people want their elected officials to make a top priority. [Emphasis added.]

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There are a number of things wrong with this sentence. The first is that it's false. The full results of the survey, which were linked to in the Times story on Sunday but have now (suspiciously!) disappeared, don't show the economy supplanting terrorism as a concern because the economy never ranked below terrorism as a concern. In fact, "terrorism" was listed only on the last two surveys, for an obvious reason. Before Christmas, the economy (according to my annotated printout of the now-vaporized charts) was picked by 21 percent of those surveyed, while terrorism was picked by 13 percent. In last week's poll, 20 percent picked the economy while 14 percent picked terrorism. If anything, that signals a small shift away from concern about the economy, toward battling terrorism—the opposite of the trend Berke and Elder dramatically announce.

Concerns about Enron, specifically, don't make the survey at all. Berke and Elder would clearly like their readers to think that concern over the "economy" can be equated with concern over the failed Houston energy company. After their false assertion about terrorism, and a reference to public opposition to deficits, they blithely assert that, despite Bush's high popularity,

"… it is unmistakable from the survey that he must also contend with the twin political predicaments posed by Enron and the economy." [Emphasis added.]

As they say, the wish fathers the lie. There is no evidence in the poll that Enron is a "predicament" for Bush on a par with the state of the economy (including the general rise in unemployment). It's certainly not "unmistakable."

Berke's not a very insightful reporter, but he doesn't usually get things completely wrong, so this smells like editor-induced error—specifically, error introduced by an editor rewriting Berke and Elder's piece so it meshes with the Enron-promotion campaign sanctioned at the paper's highest levels! You might say it is unmistakable from the story that the Times must contend with the twin journalistic predicaments posed by ideological bias and institutional self-interest. Members of the Raines Administration are mostly telling the truth but hyping something!

P.S.: Berke and Elder also say:

[T]he poll found that the Republicans' drive to make a high-profile villain of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has not succeeded. He is still a virtual unknown.

Huh? As noted, Daschle's "unfavorable" rating more than doubled, from 7 to 15 percent, and is now higher than his "favorable" rating, which is stuck at 11 percent. Though Daschle's not well-known, that's the sort of shift in "favorable-unfavorable ratio" that terrifies a potential presidential candidate (and makes him compromise on stimulus packages). If I were running the Daschle Demonization Campaign, I'd look at this poll and ask for a raise.

Update: It turns out that  Andrew Sullivan  is also on Berke's case, making many of these arguments and some of his own. Plus his site showed me a way to get to those elusive complete poll results. (They're  here.)

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