Fox's Varney said NY Times willing to "undermin[e] the security of the country"; used unscientific poll to claim that 96 percent want warrantless wiretaps

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Fox News' Stuart Varney said that The New York Times "will do anything to undermine President Bush politically, including undermining the security of the country," and then referred to an unscientific poll to suggest that 96 percent of Americans want warrantless wiretapping.

On the January 2 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, substitute host Stuart Varney said that The New York Times "will do anything to undermine President Bush politically, including undermining the security of the country." Later, Varney pointed to an unscientific online poll at FamilySecurityMatters.com -- a website affiliated with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank headed by Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan -- to make the claim that "America wants those controversial wiretaps. ... Ninety-six percent of the nation says, 'Go ahead, tap away.' "

Varney made his comments about the Times during a discussion with Democratic strategist Chris Lapetina and Les Csorba, a former national security personnel aide to President George H.W. Bush, about the newspaper's December 16 disclosure of President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program. He also claimed that the Times "leads the Democrats intellectually."

Turning to the Family Security Matters (FSM) poll, Varney concluded that the warrantless wiretapping program has "unusually strong support" among the public. He then introduced his next guest, Harvey Kushner, a contributing editor at FSM, which says its mission is "to inform women about the issues surrounding national security and to address women's underlying fears about safety and security on a personal, family, community, national and international level." Kushner told Varney, "we're not saying [the poll is] totally scientific."

The FSM website invites visitors to participate in the poll, "Tracking Al Qaeda," which consists of five questions gauging respondents' views on Bush's wiretapping program; one question asks, "Do you fault [Bush] for having taken this action?" Respondents can reply "Yes," "No," or "No answer" to each question. (The results are not displayed for respondents or apparently anywhere else on the website, so it cannot be determined where the figures shown on-screen during Varney's introduction came from or whether they actually represent the results of the poll.) This type of poll has been criticized by the National Council on Public Polls, an association of polling organizations, which noted:

Many Internet polls are simply the latest variation on the pseudo-polls that have existed for many years. Whether the effort is a click-on Web survey, a dial-in poll or a mail-in survey, the results should be ignored and not reported. All these pseudo-polls suffer from the same problem: the respondents are self-selected. The individuals choose themselves to take part in the poll -- there is no pollster choosing the respondents to be interviewed.

Remember, the purpose of a poll is to draw conclusions about the population, not about the sample. In these pseudo-polls, there is no way to project the results to any larger group. Any similarity between the results of a pseudo-poll and a scientific survey is pure chance.

Media Matters for America previously pointed out misrepresentations advanced by FSM president Carol Taber on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume.

From the January 2 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

VARNEY: Chris, to you first if I may. The New York Times leads the Democrats intellectually. The New York Times will do anything to undermine President Bush politically, including undermining the security of the country. Do you think Americans will go for that?

[...]

VARNEY: Here's the news of the moment: America wants those controversial wiretaps. Just take a look at a new online poll by FamilySecurityMatters.com. Ninety-six percent of the nation says, 'Go ahead, tap away.' Terror analyst Harvey Kushner is one of the group's contributing editors. Harvey, welcome to the program.

KUSHNER: Thanks, Stuart.

VARNEY: That's unusually strong support -- 96 percent.

KUSHNER: Well, it's strong, and we're not saying it's totally scientific. As CNN tries to imply, it's those that visited the website and put in their answer. But it's true: People want to be safe, they want to be secure, and they want these wiretaps to occur.

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