Relentless truth

I tend to quote Salon.com quite a bit in my posts here, in part because I always like to support independent journalism, especially in today’s world of corporate media saturation, but mostly because they employ and publish frighteningly talented writers.  The contributions to Salon by regular contributers such as Joan Walsh (editor-in-chief), Tim Grieve (War Room), and Gary Kamiya (various commentary) are always top-notch examples of writing, even when I disagree with the opinions being put forth.  But remarkably, the rigorous intellectual standards in place also make most every piece in Salon extremely well thought out and ruthlessly logical, usually leaving little room to disagree with what are clearly the “correct” conclusions.

Perhaps the guy that epitomizes that intellectual rigour is Glenn Greenwald.  The former constitutional and civil-rights lawyer is perhaps the most tenacious and persistent voice in journalism today.  Where others might comment on a particular story or idea, and then move onto something new, Greenwald is often relentless in tracking down the details he needs to make his point, and will come back to it again and again as new evidence comes up, or as other events shed new light on previous articles.  This past couple of weeks since the beginning of April has provided a few excellent examples of Greenwald’s persistence and detail in his discussion of the disconnect between what Washington based media pundits say about “American public opinion” and what the Americans themselves say in opinion polls.

I first article I’ll highlight on this is from April 2nd.  Its certainly not the first time Greenwald addressed the idea that punditry was not accurately reflecting American public opinion, but it serves as an excellent example of how he specifically backs up his claims with mountains of evidence.  In the case of April 2nd, Greenwald’s specific target was Cliff May, asking in the National Review’s Corner whether there’s “polling to suggest that most Americans are ready to pull the plug on Gen. Petraeus’ strategy and mission?” and then assuming there isn’t.  “If not, isn’t it high time this talking point was challenged?”

Perhaps it would be time to challenge that point, but May never bothers to do the research to answer his own question.  As Greenwald shows in this post, the polling data does, in fact, show the majority of Americans want to set specific withdrawal guidelines … the following is from a Pew poll released March 26, 2007 (quoted via Glenn Greenwald) …

A solid majority of Americans say they want their congressional representative to support a bill calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by August 2008. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) say they would like to see their representative vote for such legislation, compared with just 33% who want their representative to oppose it.

He goes on to document those numbers even further with other polls from CNN and the Washington Post/ABC News.  In exchanges throughout that day, Greenwald updated his blog with responses from May followed by more evidence specifically repudiating the responses.  At one point, May tries to claim “that the polls asking Americans whether they want to leave Iraq do not reflect whether they would favor withdrawal even if the U.S. has not “completed the mission.” He asks: “What do you think the answer would be if Americans were asked whether they favor getting out of Iraq ASAP – even if doing so means the US would have to accept defeat.””  The fact is, Greenwald had already pointed to polls which had language expressly designed to test that premise … the Washington Post/ABC News poll that Greenwald quoted before the update about May’s response is clear in its question:

But beyond being logically false, May’s claim is also factually false. This is what the Washington Post poll quoted above asked:

7. Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; OR, do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there? Keep forces – 42%

Withdraw forces – 56%

Many writer’s would leave it at that, but Greenwald likes to be complete in his analysis, it seems, and he sees the same issue from many different perspectives.  In two other separate blog entries, Greenwald picks up a similar theme of pundits giving inaccurate reflections of public opinion, but on a wholly different issue to the war in Iraq, that of Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria.  The media reaction to her trip was swift and direct, consisting mostly of condemnation for aiding and abetting “an enemy of the US.”  The “punditry” quickly jumped on condemnations by Cheney and the Wall Street Journal, and in the April 6th piece, Greenwald notes how Matt Lauer and Tim Russert were already repeating those condemnations without criticism, and and asking how damaging this “irresponsible” trip “will be to Democrats in the eyes of “the American people””

Fast forward to April 17th, and Greenwald returns to the theme again, this time specifically quoting part the exchange exchange between Russert and Laurer, as well as CNN’s Suzanne Malvaeux, all of whom seemed to express the notion that Pelosi’s trip went contrary not only to the best interests of US security (a point that seems to be taken on faith, with little or no attempt to justify it with reason), but also to American public opinion, dooming Pelosi to be “controversial”.  As Laurer puts it directly, “let’s face it, a lot of people think she messed up on this one, what’s the impact for Democrats overall?

Again, as with the piece on May, Greenwald then goes on to document precisely where all these assumptions fall over.  He cites polling data from the Washington Post/ABC News that shows Pelosi’s approval rating is virtually unchanged before and after the trip … the number of people who approve of her went up 3 points after the trip, but the number of people who don’t aprove also went up 4 points leaving her virtually unchanged from before, especially given margin of error.  Not only do polls show Democrats as rating higher in approval than Bush, it goes further to the specific fact that Congressional Democrats were 15 points more popular (and 15 point LESS UNPOPULAR as well) than their Congressional Republican colleagues.  Again, that came AFTER Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Syria which was painted by Republicans as tantamount to treason and breaking “bread with terrorists and enemies of the United States.”  The fact remains that ” By 64% to 28%, respondents favored the [Baker/Hamilton] group’s recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria.” according to polling data reported in the LA Times and further that, according to Rasmussen, only 29% of people polled agree that Syria is, in fact, an “enemy of the United States.”

One of the most common tactics people use to try and convince others of the validity of their position is to argue that they are in line with public opinion.  As far as thats true, it can be a compelling argument.  But unfortunately, we need to be sure that what is being claimed is actually true.  Lately, the mainstream media, in many cases, seem to make assumptions about what public opinion is, usually in support of talking points from the entrenched power structure.  Its nice to know that there will always be people around like Glenn Greenwald with the tenacity, the intelligence, and the background to dig out these cases of outright twisting of public opinion.  Someone needs to keep the media pundits honest … as Greenwald points out in the April 17th piece, the recent Pulitzer announcement for the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage was explained by his editor, Martin Baron, this way: “he covered what the White House does, not just what it says.”  The irony, of course, is that reporting on what the White House does used to be a basic job qualification for the White House Press corps, as opposed to such a rare quality it deserves to be singled out for one of the highest journalistic awards offered … its high time that media ethics came back in as a requirement of the job so that folks like Russert and Laurer will be held to account for actually reporting accurate information.

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