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Media continues to ignore impeachment polling
On November 7, Dan Froomkin wrote in a column for The Washington Post's website:
Back in June, Zogby asked Americans if they agreed or disagreed with the following question:
"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."
An astonishing 42 percent of Americans agreed. (I wrote about that in my July 6 column.)
Since then, no news organizations has [sic] expressed any curiosity, and no polling company has decided to ask the question on its own.
But afterdowningstreet.org , a group urging Congress to launch a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war, keeps asking.
In October, they commissioned Ipsos Public Affairs to ask a similar question. That poll found that 50 percent of Americans agreed.
Now, a new Zogby poll commissioned by the group finds that a clear majority -- 53 percent of Americans -- agree with the statement.
Since Froomkin's online column, news organizations have continued their steadfast refusal to report the results of a poll that shows that the majority of Americans think Bush should be impeached if he did not tell the truth about going to war with Iraq. Only five news reports available on Nexis mention the latest Zogby poll: the Froomkin column, an Investor's Business Daily editorial, a column in the University of Massachusetts student newspaper, a "Potpourri" feature in West Virginia's Charleston Gazette, and a column in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In a November 13 column, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell addressed reader requests for the Post to conduct its own polls to measure public support for impeachment:
First, there was a swarm to me and to Post Polling Editor Richard Morin asking that The Post do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached. Whoa. Since we get mail all the time saying that we are biased against Bush or are in his back pocket, why would The Post want to do that? The question many demanded that The Post ask is biased and would produce a misleading result, Morin said; he added that the campaign was started by Democrats.com.
But Howell's defense doesn't ring true. Her reference to complaints that the Post is "biased against Bush or are in his back pocket" is simply an irrelevant dodge; it has nothing to do with the question. It's simply the same tired and lazy strategy that news organizations often fall back on in the face of criticism: saying, essentially: hey, both sides complain, so we must be doing everything right.
Further, Howell didn't explain how "the question many demanded the Post ask is biased," she just asserted it (attributing the assertion to Morin). But how would it be biased? Surely it must be possible to design a poll question to measure the public's support for impeachment that isn't "biased." After all, the Post did it repeatedly when there was a Democratic president.
For example, A January 1998 Post poll conducted just days after the first revelations of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky asked the following questions:
"If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"
"There are also allegations that Clinton himself lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman. If Clinton lied in this way, would you want him to remain in office as president, or would you want him to resign the presidency?"
"If Clinton lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman, and he did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"
Morin was the Post's polling director at the time, and he wrote the January 26, 1998, article reporting the poll results.
How is "If the president did not tell the truth about the Iraq war, should he be impeached?" a more biased question than the questions the Post -- under Morin's direction -- asked in 1998? They take precisely the same format: If X is true, should the president be impeached?
Howell owes readers more than flippant responses and broad assertions that the Post can't ask such questions because they are "biased"; she owes readers an explanation of why such questions can be asked about Democratic presidents but not Republican presidents. And she owes readers an explanation of why the Post won't report the Zogby polling results. After all, a June 3, 2002, Post article -- written by the very same Richard Morin that Howell cited -- described Zogby International as:
... among the most visible private survey companies in the country. Its client list includes congressional candidates from both parties as well as Microsoft and Cisco Systems, the U.S. Census Bureau, Chrysler Corp., State Farm Insurance, USA Today, the New York Post, Gannett News Service, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Fox Television Network.
While the Post has ignored the Zogby poll outside of Froomkin's online column, it recently mentioned a controversial RT Strategies poll in three articles in six days. The Post reported the RT Strategies poll results to a question about whether Democratic criticism of Bush's Iraq policy "HELPS the morale of our troops in Iraq or HURTS the morale of our troops in Iraq." In the interest of balance, perhaps the Post should ask in its own polling whether false claims by the Bush administration about why our troops have been sent to Iraq HELPS or HURTS their morale?
The media blackout on news about impeachment polling is particularly surprising given media commentary about the broader topic of impeachment.
Rothenberg Political Report editor Stuart Rothenberg wrote in a December 5 Roll Call column that, if Democrats talk about impeachment, they could suffer electoral losses as a result. Bizarrely, in a column about the public-opinion implications of talking about impeachment, Rothenberg didn't make a single mention of the publicly available polling on impeachment. Maybe that's because the polling doesn't support his assertions?
Like Rothenberg, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke also wrote a recent column dealing with the possibility of impeachment. Like Rothenberg, Kondracke ignored the available polling on the matter. And like Rothenberg, Kondracke noted the lack of public support for the Republican's 1998 impeachment of President Clinton. But in the process, Kondracke made a false claim about Clinton's 1998 approval ratings:
But in 1998, even though Clinton's approval rating descended as low as 39 percent after disclosures that he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Democrats gained five House seats after Republicans forecast that they would impeach him after the election - as they did.
"We overplayed our hand," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who later became chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The Democrats had better watch out that they don't do the same."
In fact, Clinton's 1998 approval rating didn't descend to anywhere near 39 percent; they stayed high throughout the year. Kondracke's false claim about Clinton's popularity creates the impression that Republicans "overplayed their hands," as Davis put it, by impeaching a very unpopular president -- which would, perhaps, be relevant given President Bush's current lack of popularity. But in fact Republicans "overplayed their hands" by impeaching a very popular president. Even aside from the substantive differences in the allegations and evidence against the two presidents, the situations simply aren't analogous.