Polls, Political Realities, And The New York Times

During a recent lunch with my sister and a good friend, the topic (unsurprisingly) turned to politics. The three of us are, as the kids used to say, “in sync,” so it was more a session of “who in the world looks at Donald Trump and sees someone presidential?” But at the end, my sister voiced what has become a common complaint-cum-question: what is going on at the  New York Times

We’ve all noticed it; the Times seems intent upon highlighting anything that could be considered negative about the Biden campaign, while essentially ignoring Trump’s increasing dementia. When I say we’ve all noticed it, I have evidence; the day after our lunch, both Robert Hubbell’s newsletter and Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo addressed the Time’s obvious bias.

Hubbell’s analysis was well worth reading.

He began by addressing the Times-sponsored poll that showed Biden currently trailing Trump. “The Times covered its own poll as front-page news for three days, ignoring three other polls from reputable organizations that showed Biden leading (slightly in one poll) or tied (in two polls).”

If the Times mentioned the three recent polls that contradicted the breathless coverage of its poll, I can’t find that story. What I can find is another front-page story about Joe Biden’s age. (NYTimes: Amid Age Concerns, the White House Tries a New Strategy: Let Joe Be Joe.) At the New York Times, “No news is good news”—because if there is good news about Biden, it’s not news at the Times.

Hubbell then reported on Trump’s most recent word-salad.

The gratuitous dig at Biden’s age was published on Super Tuesday—and after a weekend during which Trump melted into incoherence while he promoted anti-immigrant hate and election denialism, called the country of Argentina “a great guy,” was defeated in his attempt to pronounce “Venezuela,”  confused former President Obama and current President Biden, and asked the crowd to look at the back of his head because “I am like an artist.” (See Newsweek, Donald Trump’s String of Gaffes Over Weekend Raises Eyebrows.)

Calling those statements “gaffes” should be considered a campaign contribution. 

As Hubbell reported, the Times’ bias has become so noticeable, it is prompting coverage by other media outlets. He also shared an observation by another Substack author to the effect that polls are manufactured news events and  shouldn’t be considered “news events” at all–that Journalists “should not be in the business of creating news, especially in ways that they have the power to control.”

Hubbell quotes a commentary from SalonThere is something wrong at the New York Times | Salon.com

Two things…check that…three things appear to have gone off the rails at the paper we used to call the Gray Lady.  First, whoever is in charge of the paper’s polls is not doing their job.  Second, whoever is choosing what to emphasize in the Times coverage of the campaign for the presidency is showing bias.  Third, the Times is obsessed with Joe Biden’s age at the same time they’re leaving evidence of Donald Trump’s mental and verbal stumbles completely out of the news.

Hubbell noted that he’d watched Trump’s Super Tuesday victory speech, and that (in addition to appearing sedated) he was rambling, confused, and detached from reality.

Trump repeated an internet rumor that Biden “flew in 325,000 immigrants” into our country (a grotesque misrepresentation of how the CPB processes asylum applicants fleeing their home country). He descended into incomprehensible comments about Venezuelan oil being “tar” that is refined in the US and “goes up into the air” (complete with whirly-gig hand gestures). He repeated a dozen easily disprovable lies. Even though Melania was noticeably absent, he thanked his ”family” for being present.

Finally, Hubbell turned his attention to the polling, and shared numbers showing that Trump has continued to significantly under-perform FiveThirtyEight.com’s averages. In Virginia, he underperformed by 20 points, in Tennessee, by 10, Massachusetts by 14.

Many states did not have enough polls to qualify for a FiveThirtyEight average, but in Vermont, the most recent poll had Trump winning by 30%. In fact, Haley won by 4%, an underperformance by Trump of -34.

Trump over-performed in one state—North Carolina—by +5.

Like my sister, and many of you, I have been frustrated–and worried–by the mainstream media’s coverage of the polling and the candidates.

In the wake of Super Tuesday, Americans are facing an almost-certain choice between two candidates, both of whom are older than the candidates we’re used to. One of those candidates is a good, decent man who has drawn on his experience and wisdom to power a transformational–and very much under-rated–Presidency. The other is a morally-repulsive, intellectually-vacant ignoramus rapidly descending into dementia.

That’s the choice. The New York Times isn’t covering it. 


Putting Their Money Where Their Mouths Are–NOT

Even in Kansas–a deep-red state--voters have seen through the pious lies of the forced birth movement.

Rabid anti-abortion activists insist that they care about “both”–the woman and the fetus that they insist upon calling a baby. The New York Times recently published some data that shows just how hollow that declaration really is.

Pro-choice advocates have long emphasized that hollowness: the fact that the forced-birth movement conveniently ignores the complexities of pregnancy and its impact on women’s health, and the fact that once those little fetuses become actual babies, interest in their welfare magically evaporates. As the saying goes, the Times article brings the receipts.

The headline and sub-head really tell the story: “States With Abortion Bans Are Among Least Supportive for Mothers and Children.” “They tend to have the weakest social services and the worst results in several categories of health and well-being.” Extensive charts confirm the message that the states that are most hostile to abortion score poorly on a wide variety of health and well-being outcomes, while states supportive of abortion rights  have more generous social safety nets.

You might conclude that–in states where legislators actually give a rat’s patootie about women and babies–they pass laws that both respect female autonomy and provide support for the children of women who choose to give birth. They put their money where their mouths are.

Let’s look at Mississippi–a state Indiana seems to be trying to emulate:

In Mississippi, which brought the abortion case that ended Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Gov. Tate Reeves vowed that the state would now “take every step necessary to support mothers and children.”

Today, however, Mississippi fares poorly on just about any measure of that goal. Its infant and maternal mortality rates are among the worst in the nation.

State leaders have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, leaving an estimated 43,000 women of reproductive age without health insurance. They have chosen not to extend Medicaid to women for a full year after giving birth. And they have a welfare program that gives some of the country’s least generous cash assistance — a maximum of $260 a month for a poor mother raising two children.

If it was only Mississippi, that would be bad enough, but the Times investigation found that in the 24 states that have banned abortion (or probably will) policies on a broad range of outcomes are substantially worse than in states where abortion will probably remain legal. The article cited policies on child and maternal mortality, teenage birthrates and the share of women and children who have no health insurance.

The majority of these states have turned down the yearlong Medicaid postpartum extension. Nine have declined the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which provides health care to the poor. None offer new parents paid leave from work to care for their newborns.

One of the charts accompanying the text lists the states that have banned or dramatically restricted abortion or are likely to, along with their ranks on lack of insurance, maternal and infant mortality, and child poverty. (They all appear to be Red states. Indiana, unsurprisingly, is toward the bottom of those categories, just as we are at the bottom of states in voter turnout–which may not be a data point as unconnected as it first appears…among other issues, gerrymandering is bad for women.)

Indiana ranks 30th in its percentage of insured women; 41st in maternal mortality; 39th in infant mortality, and 28th in child poverty.  Those rankings are likely to sink even further after our retrograde legislature’s attack on women’s autonomy.

The article also acknowledges the role of racism.

Studies have repeatedly found that states where the safety net is less generous and harder to access tend to be those with relatively more Black residents. That has further implications for Black women, who have a maternal mortality rate nationally that is nearly three times that of white women.

The article has other examples of “pro life” states’ lack of concern for those “precious babies” once they are actually born.

None of the states that have banned abortion (or are likely to) guarantee parents paid leave from work to care for and bond with their newborns. Just 11 states and the District of Columbia do. Paid leave has been shown to benefit infants’ health and mothers’ physical and mental health as well as their economic prospects.

In most states, there is no guaranteed child care for children until they enter kindergarten at age 5. Subsidies available to low-income families cover a small segment of eligible children, ranging from less than 4 percent in Arkansas (which now bans abortion) to more than 17 percent in Vermont (which passed abortion rights legislation).

I encourage you to click through. Read the statistics and peruse the charts. And the next time someone piously proclaims that they “love them both,” hand them a copy.



Communication is hard work in the best of times–and we definitely don’t live in the best of times.

Academics who study communication tend to focus on barriers to understanding like cultural differences and different reactions to “nonverbal” cues and body language. (I await research on how Zoom interactions affect those nonverbal cues…)There’s a whole field of intercultural communication, established back in 1959 by an anthropologist named Edward Hall.

So what–I hear you asking–does any of this abstract scholarly research have to do with the people filling American streets clamoring for justice and change?

A lot, I think. An enormous amount of civic unrest is a result of failure to truly communicate.

A recurring discussion on this blog has focused on the extent to which our inability to understand each other is been rooted in the media environment we currently inhabit. It isn’t simply the propaganda promulgated by talk radio, Fox and Sinclair–it is also the relatively recent, well-meaning but misplaced effort of so-called “Legacy” media to be “balanced,” to be fair, to give even the fringiest points of view a respectful treatment. As a result, even bizarre perspectives have been given a patina of respectability. This emphasis on “balance” plays directly into the narrative of the far Right–and the recent publication of the Tom Cotton op-ed by the New York Times is just one recent example.  Zuckerberg’s cowardly refusal to fact-check Republican lies on FaceBook is another.

Heather Cox Richardson sees signs that such unearned respect may be changing–and that Trump’s sinking poll results are evidence that he and his enablers are losing the benefits of that unduly deferential narrative.

Even more indicative that the national narrative is changing was the announcement yesterday that James Bennet had resigned as the editorial page editor of the New York Times. Bennet ran an op-ed last Wednesday by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton titled (by the Times, not by Cotton) “Send in the Troops.” The inflammatory piece blamed “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa” for an “orgy of violence” during the recent protests and claimed that “outnumbered police officers… bore the brunt of the violence.” Neither of these statements is true, and they clothe a false Republican narrative in what appears to be fact. Cotton’s solution to the protests was to send in the military to restore “law and order,” and he misquoted the Constitution to defend that conclusion.

The kerfuffle over this op-ed seems like it’s more than a normal media skirmish. For more than a century, American media has tried to report facts impartially….

Richardson pegs the start of talk radio to the abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine; it was the beginning of a propaganda barrage with which we are now all too familiar:  white taxpayers under siege by godless women and people of color. Fox News Channel wasn’t far behind. Fox’s greatest success was in equating “fair” with “balanced.”  Other media outlets became defensive; in order to protect themselves against charges that they were biased, they accepted the notion that media must show “both sides.”

Richardson thinks Bennet’s resignation over the Cotton op-ed “marks a shift in the media that has been building for months as newspapers and television chyrons increasingly check political falsehoods in favor of fact-based argument.”

If accurate, that is good news. It would be even better if the Left wasn’t–once again–engaging in communicative suicide.

Richardson is hardly the only commentator expressing frustration over the slogan  “defund the police”–a phrase that suggests abolishing police departments. What is actually intended is perfectly reasonable–  proponents want to shrink police responsibilities and decrease police budgets, investing instead in the community resources that have lost money as police budgets have exploded–but it is hard to imagine a stupider slogan or a more welcome gift to a GOP desperately trying to change the subject from a pandemic and massive protests.

They may not be able to govern, but one thing Republicans are good at is labeling, at carefully choosing terminology likely to resonate with the majority of voters who are not obsessively following political news and able to “deconstruct” political phrasing. Remember the “death tax”? Remember when “undocumented workers” became “illegal aliens,” the “social safety net” became “socialism,” and “national health care” became “socialized medicine”?

I think Richardson is right that the media is–slowly– jettisoning false equivalency for fact-based objectivity. That’s good news for “team blue”–and not an invitation to muddy the waters with yet another unforced communication error.

When you mean “reform policing,” say “reform policing,” or something similar. Don’t hand Trump a weapon with which to confuse and mislead. Communicate!


Mike Pence: Embarrassing Indiana Yet Again

Nothing like picking up the New York Times, “the nation’s newspaper,” seeing an editorial titled “Judge’s Message to Xenophobes,” and realizing it’s all about Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

The editorial was in response to the stinging decision by Federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, in which she not only found what every first-year law student already knew–that federal government, not the state, has jurisdiction over the resettlement of Syrian refugees–but that Pence’s move to withhold resettlement funds was “in no way” justified by his claim that his main concern was the safety of Indiana residents.

Resettlement lawyers said the ruling was the first to address substantively the attempt by some governors, mostly Republicans, to exploit the terrorism issue. The presidential candidates, of course, have been vying furiously to keep up with venomous nativism coming from Donald Trump and from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who told a conservative radio interviewer that “I don’t think orphans under 5 are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point.”

I had no idea those five-year-old Syrian kids could be so dangerous….but of course, they’re Muslims….

According to the State Department, 67 percent of the Syrian refugees referred to the United States for asylum are women and children under the age of 12. Mr. Trump has falsely suggested that federal officials steered Syrian refugees to states with Republican governors, when in fact resettlement decisions are made by mainstream social agencies like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Mr. Trump’s claim was one more example of propaganda being used to distort the truth on the refugee issue.

Governor Pence’s willingness to make political points by inflicting unnecessary harm on children who are already in dire straits simply confirms what even the most casual observer has seen: a self-important, self-described “Christian” more interested in pandering to his party’s fundamentalist base than in governing the state of Indiana.

What is even more unbelievable is that Mr. Posturer insists he will appeal the decision. He will expend taxpayer resources to appeal a judicial application of settled law, further announcing to the nation and the world that Indiana is an unwelcoming and discriminatory state.

That ought to be almost as good for business as his defense of homophobia.

I know where you can buy a “Pence Must Go” sign.


The Quotes Tell the Story

Charles Blow has a must-read column in the New York Times, in which he foregoes characterizing for quoting. That is, rather than attributing attitudes to political figures like Romney, Gingrich, Ryan, et al, he simply quotes them.

It’s devastating.