Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism
ABC's Antiwar "Reality Check"
World News Tonight minimizes support for withdrawal
September 1, 2005
Cindy Sheehan's protest outside George W. Bush's Texas ranch has recently focused media attention on the antiwar movement. But some mainstream media outlets seem determined to marginalize such activism.
On August 25, ABC World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson asked, "People may tell pollsters they oppose the war, but are they part of any real antiwar movement? We asked ABC's Dan Harris to take a reality check on the depth of sentiment against the war."
Harris began his "reality check" with this:
"For months, Americans have been telling pollsters that going to war was a mistake. But that does not necessarily add up to a major antiwar movement. While Cindy Sheehan gets a lot of media attention, only 13 percent of Americans, according to the latest ABC News poll, want an immediate withdrawal of US troops, which may be why the public protests thus far have been relatively small."
It's true, as Harris said, that polls have shown a majority in the U.S. calling the invasion of Iraq a "mistake" (e.g., 53 percent in a August 22-24 AP/Ipsos poll, 54 percent in a August 5-7 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll). But ABC's suggestion that a much smaller fraction opposes the ongoing war is highly misleading.
The 13 percent figure that he cites is derived from a two-month old Washington Post/ABC News poll, taken June 23-26, which asked, "Do you think the number of U.S. military forces in Iraq should be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?"--and then asked the 38 percent who gave the "decreased" answer, "Should all U.S. forces in Iraq be withdrawn immediately, or should they be decreased, but not all withdrawn immediately?" Thirty-four percent of this sub-group chose "withdrawn immediately," and 34 percent of 38 percent is 13 percent.
Any poll result arrived at in such a roundabout manner should be viewed skeptically. And indeed, there's a much more straightforward question getting at the same issue earlier in the same poll:
"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?"
Here 41 percent chose the "withdrawal" option--not a majority, but much higher than the marginal 13 percent that ABC News chose to highlight. (Note that a few more respondents supported withdrawal than were in favor of decreasing the number of troops--illustrating the problem with measuring support for immediate withdrawal as a subset of those who wanted to decrease troop numbers.)
And surveys more recent than that two-month old "latest ABC News poll" showed substantially more support for withdrawal--either gradual or immediate.
An August 9 Gallup poll found 33 percent support for withdrawing all U.S. troops now and 23 percent support for bringing some of the troops home. And an August 25 Harris Poll, released the same day as ABC's newscast, found that 61 percent of respondents favored bringing most U.S. troops "home in the next year," versus 36 percent who wished to "wait for a stable government."
Given those findings, it seems that ABC preferred its own older poll simply because it fit the agenda of the report--namely, to suggest that there is no significant antiwar feeling in the country. Harris carried that dubious point further by claiming that the apparently slim support for troop withdrawal "may be why the public protests thus far have been relatively small." That depends on what "relatively small" might mean. The worldwide demonstrations against the war on February 15, 2003 attracted millions to the streets to protest a looming invasion of Iraq. And over 1,600 vigils in support of Cindy Sheehan were held around the county on August 17. Organizers Moveon.org claim hundreds of thousands of Americans participated in those events.
ABC's Harris closed in typical mainstream media form by suggesting that grassroots activism is less important than the political establishment: "While pop songs might reflect the public mood, it may take a politician with a real plan to truly mobilize people." If history is any guide, the people will mobilize the politicians to oppose the war--not the other way around.
Ask ABC why it chose an unrepresentative poll number that minimized support for a withdrawal from Iraq.
ABC World News Tonight
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