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Kelly McParland: The media needs to break its polling addiction – The Journal Pioneer

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There was so much uncertainty surrounding Tuesday’s U.S. election, it was almost reassuring to note one clear message: the pollsters blew it.

Again. If the world noticed anything, it was the latest example of an industry that had four years to avoid the same colossal humiliation it suffered in 2016 when it had everyone convinced Hillary Clinton was just an easy waltz from the White House.

That it failed is pretty much a universal conclusion, as some sample headlines attest:

CBC: “How the polls got it wrong — again.”

Washington Times: “Pollsters, once again, are utterly, completely wrong”

New York Post: “The pollsters were wrong, again. Why do we listen to them?”

Israel Hayom: “The Pollsters got it wrong, again.”

Sydney Morning Herald: “Why the polls were wrong — and will never be right again”

BBC: “Why the pollsters got it wrong, again.”

That last one, by the way, was a bit of a trick. It topped a report by the venerable journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke regarding the 1980 presidential contest between challenger Ronald Reagan and incumbent Jimmy Carter. That must have been one difficult race to misread, given that Reagan ended with 489 electoral college votes to Carter’s 49. So overwhelming was Carter’s whomping that he had to be dissuaded from conceding defeat even before the TV networks formally declared the result.

This is not a new phenomenon

So this is not a new phenomenon. It has, in fact, become pretty much a ritual, regularly leaving news editors scratching their heads and wondering how the pollsters managed to bugger it up so badly, and why they’d been so naive as to trust in their predictions.

Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 was supposed to be such a shocking event that the polling industry delved deeply into its practices and procedures to ensure nothing so embarrassing could happen again. And yet, four years later, there was Trump within inches of an unexpected victory over Joe Biden, after we’d all been told the Democratic candidate was well ahead in plenty of crucial swing states, and should have a relatively smooth run, perhaps even a blowout.

So, OK, how did they get it wrong? Well, let’s see, all sorts of reasons. Turns out Cubans in Miami still haven’y gotten over Castro, and Hispanics aren’t one big homogenous population that all votes for the same party. Who knew? And according to Pew Research, a big U.S. pollster, response rates to survey inquiries have fallen to six per cent, meaning 94 per cent of people can’t be bothered. Add in those who lie, aren’t planning to vote at all, or don’t want to admit they’re supporting someone like Trump, and you’ve got an industry based on the word of two or three people out of a hundred, with nothing better to do.

Even industry veterans wonder what’s wrong. “You cannot be this wrong, this consistently wrong, and actually pretend like you know what you’re doing,” Democratic pollster Chris Kofinis

told the CBC

.

They overestimated Democrat chances in the Senate, they missed their weakness in the House, they had Biden well ahead in swing states he barely won by the skin of his teeth. Texas turned out not to be within his grasp. Florida was never there to be had. India’s Hindustan Times assessed the situation and

passed judgment

: too many people drinking one another’s bathwater. “Let’s call it the echo chamber bias of the chattering classes,” it pronounced.

None of this would matter, if it weren’t for the media’s inability to get over its decades-long love affair with polls. “There’s media people, major news outlets in major news networks in the United States that are listening to pollsters who have no idea what they’re doing,” Kofinis fumed. No kidding. And they’re not limited to the U.S. Canada’s media outlets can’t get enough of polls, no matter how inane, ill-timed or poorly grounded.

Canada’s media outlets can’t get enough of polls

Almost immediately after Erin O’Toole was selected as Conservative leader, pollsters revealed that few Canadians knew much about him. Fifty-two per cent said they knew so little they couldn’t even form an opinion. That didn’t stop another pollster from seeking views on his carbon tax plans, which somehow were supposedly better known than the man himself. We’re confronted with polls on political support, mid-way between elections when voters are paying scant, if any, attention. We’re told Canadians support Ottawa’s Liberals, when what they really like is the outpouring of COVID money, not necessarily the party firing off the cheques. Interest groups commission polls predestined to support their agenda, and news organizations treat them as valid. In September the Assembly of First Nations spent good money on a poll indicating — guess what — Canadians broadly support the AFN cause. If that’s the case, why did they need the poll?

The New York Times reported that people were feeling so isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic they were increasingly willing to answer their phones when pollsters called. “They just want to talk to someone,” one interviewer marvelled. Of course, that doesn’t mean they had any more idea what they were talking about. Ask people for an opinion and they’ll usually give one, whether they grasp the issue or not.

The flaws of polling are the industry’s problem. The puzzle is why the media insists on risking its own reputation, what’s left of it, on a business about as reliable as politicians’ promises. Polls are cheap and easy, and fill space in the paper. They’re like a news industry version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not: one found that 27 per cent Americans think God decides the winner in football games. Another found that 46 per cent opposed Obamacare but just 37 per cent opposed the Affordable Care Act, even though they’re the same thing.

As the New York Post wondered, why do we listen to them? Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald agreed: “Political polling is good fun, but it should be treated more as entertainment than as serious politics.” The media knows it has a problem, one that’s easily solved. Take the cure, swear off the addiction. It will ache for a while, but we’ll be better off in the end.


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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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Bill Barr bashed in right-wing media after election fraud comments: 'He is either a liar or a fool or both' – CNN

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Since he was confirmed as attorney general, William Barr has been somewhat of a hero in the right-wing media universe. He has assailed the Russia probe. He has talked a big game about cracking down on Antifa. He has sharply criticized the news media. On and on it goes.
But his celebrity status took a hit on Tuesday when he undercut President Trump’s brazenly false contention that there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. Speaking to the Associated Press, Barr said that, “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
The statement from Barr, which merely recited a simple fact, not only cut against what Trump has been saying, but also what Trump’s propagandists and allies in right-wing media have been feeding their audiences. For weeks, these media personalities have strung their audiences along, suggesting that damning proof of fraud was just around the corner. Which is why the comment from Barr stung so bad.
The comment effectively forced these right-wing stars to pick between acknowledging the reality Barr laid out or continuing Trump’s fantasy. Trump’s most devoted propagandists chose the latter. And so they started to throw Barr under the bus, just as they’ve done with every other conservative who has dared to contradict the president. (Think about how former conservative stars such as Jeff Sessions, Justin Amash, Paul Ryan, and others were treated when they didn’t blindly oblige Trump’s demands.)

“A liar or a fool or both”

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, whose conspiratorial program is a favorite of the president, attacked Barr in brutal terms on his show. “For the attorney general of the United States to make that statement — he is either a liar or a fool or both,” Dobbs said. Dobbs then went further, suggesting Barr was “perhaps compromised.” He characterized Barr as having “appeared to join in with the radical Dems and the deep-state and the resistance.”
Dobbs wasn’t the only one. Newsmax host Greg Kelly, who has risen to fame in right-wing media circles in the last few weeks for suggesting Trump could emerge as the winner of the election, went after Barr on his show. “Some of us are wondering if he is a warrior with the Constitution or if he’s just a bureaucrat,” Kelly said. Kelly added that he “can’t believe” if Barr “looked for voter fraud he wouldn’t find any.” And Mark Levin said he “regret[ted] to say” that Barr’s comments were “misleading.”
The far-right blogs were even harsher. The Gateway Pundit, a fringe website which Trump has repeatedly promoted, published a post that said Barr had revealed himself as “totally deaf, dumb and blind.” The post went on to say that Barr’s “masquerade as someone opposed to the criminality of the Deep State” had been “exposed as a venal lie” and that he was a “fraud.” It concluded, “You either fix the damn corrupt system or we will abandon you…Our days of tolerating betrayal are over.”

Some hold fire

While Barr faced strong criticism from some notable names in right-wing media, others refrained from attacking him on Tuesday night. Notably, heavyweights Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity didn’t skewer the AG. It will be interesting over the next 24 hours if this anti-Barr narrative takes greater hold in the Trump-friendly media, or if it dissipates.

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Trump threatens defence veto over social media protections – BarrieToday

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is threatening to veto a defence policy bill unless it ends protections for internet companies that shield them from being held liable for material posted by their users.

On Twitter Tuesday night, Trump took aim at Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted — whether their complaint is legitimate or not.

Trump called Section 230 “a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity,” adding, “Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill.”

Trump has been waging war against social media companies for months, claiming they are biased against conservative voices.

In October he signed an executive order directing executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies.

Since losing the presidential election, Trump has flooded social media with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Twitter has tagged many such Trump tweets with the advisory, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”

Tuesday’s veto threat is another potential roadblock for the passage of the annual defence policy measure, which is already being held up in Congress by a spat over military bases named for Confederate officers. The measure, which has passed for 59 years in a row on a bipartisan basis, guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, military personnel policy and other military goals.

The Associated Press

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Trump threatens defence veto over social media protections – CTV News

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WASHINGTON —
U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to veto a defence policy bill unless it ends protections for internet companies that shield them from being held liable for material posted by their users.

On Twitter Tuesday night, Trump took aim at Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted — whether their complaint is legitimate or not.

Trump called Section 230 “a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity,” adding, “Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill.”

Trump has been waging war against social media companies for months, claiming they are biased against conservative voices.

In October he signed an executive order directing executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies.

Since losing the presidential election, Trump has flooded social media with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Twitter has tagged many such Trump tweets with the advisory, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”

Tuesday’s veto threat is another potential roadblock for the passage of the annual defence policy measure, which is already being held up in Congress by a spat over military bases named for Confederate officers. The measure, which has passed for 59 years in a row on a bipartisan basis, guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, military personnel policy and other military goals.

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