On NBC's Today, Smerconish cherry-picked stock and Iraq data to crown Bush the "new comeback kid"

››› ››› JOE BROWN

On NBC's Today, Michael Smerconish selectively cited the stock market's performance and cherry-picked favorable data from a New York Times op-ed to claim that President Bush was making a "comeback." In fact, the Dow Jones industrial average has headed downward dramatically in recent weeks before experiencing a partial recovery in recent days, and other data cited in the Times op-ed led its authors to conclude that "it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full."

On the June 16 edition of NBC's Today, conservative radio host Michael Smerconish selectively cited the stock market's performance over a two-day period and cherry-picked favorable data from a June 16 New York Times op-ed to support his claim that President Bush was making a "comeback" after enjoying "an extraordinary week and month." In fact, the Dow Jones industrial average has headed downward dramatically in recent weeks before experiencing a partial recovery in recent days, and other data cited in the Times op-ed led its authors to conclude that "it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full."

During a panel discussion featuring Democratic strategist James Carville and moderated by guest host Campbell Brown, Brown asked Smerconish whether people will "look back" on the past week as "the week President Bush got his mojo back." Smerconish responded that Bush was "the new comeback kid" -- a reference to former President Clinton's onetime nickname in the press -- and stated that "the market just had the best two days in the last three years." He later asserted that it has been "an extraordinary week and month for the president," given the performance of the stock market and other news favorable to Bush.

But the gains made by the Dow Jones industrial average on June 14 and 15 came after weeks of losses. The Dow closed at 10,706 on June 13, rising 309 points over the course of the next two days to a June 15 close of 11,015. But these gains constituted only a partial recovery from the Dow's losses in preceding weeks -- 937 points from its May 10 close, a relative peak of 11,643, to its June 13 close.

Further undermining Smerconish's suggestion that the performance of the stock market had contributed to "an extraordinary week and month" for Bush, the Dow had gained a mere 76 points during the five business days prior to Smerconish's statement, dropping 233 points from a June 8 closing of 10,939 to its June 13 closing of 10,706, before rising to 11,015 on June 15. Moreover, the Dow actually lost 414 points during the supposedly "extraordinary" month Bush had. From its May 15 closing of 11,429, the Dow dropped 723 points to its June 13 closing of 10,706, before partially recovering to close at 11,015 on June 15.

Additionally, Smerconish baselessly accused Carville of engaging in "a pretty selective reading of the data" contained in the 16 New York Times op-ed, when in fact it was Smerconish who appeared to be cherry-picking statistics from the op-ed. Smerconish made his remarks in response to Carville's assertion that "this morning, we see in the paper" several indications of slow or nonexistent progress in Iraq -- that Iraqis' confidence in their government is "plummeting," that oil production is below prewar levels, that "electricity is below" prewar levels*, and that "insurgent attacks are up." Although Carville did not state which newspaper he was citing, Smerconish accused Carville of "a pretty selective reading of the data that's presented by the Brookings Institution in today's New York Times." Apparently referring to an op-ed by the Brookings Institution's Nina Kamp and Michael O'Hanlon, along with graphic designer Amy Unikewicz, Smerconish stated that "[t]he most critical bit of information" was that "60,000 Iraqi police officers and soldiers" are now in the top two readiness tiers, in the Pentagon's four-tier classification system for Iraqi troop readiness.

In fact, it was Smerconish who selectively cited the Times op-ed. Although a chart accompanying the article did show that more Iraqi police officers and soldiers are now in the top two readiness tiers (60,000 in May 2006, up from 20,000 in May 2005), the authors cited additional information on the state of affairs in Iraq, including most of what Carville mentioned, to reach a much less optimistic conclusion than that suggested by Smerconish: that "it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full."

From the June 16 New York Times op-ed:

Unfortunately, according to our latest tally of metrics (compiled from a variety of government and news media sources), Iraq has a long way to go.

[...]

Violence on the whole is as bad as ever. Sectarian strife is worse than ever. The economy has slowly come back to prewar levels for the most part, but is now treading water. As a result, optimism has waned. According to an International Republican Institute poll conducted in late March, more than 75 percent of Iraqis consider the security environment to be poor and the economy poor or mediocre.

Those looking for signs of promise in Iraq can still find footholds beyond the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The security forces, particularly the Iraqi Army, continue to improve in technical proficiency -- even if their interethnic cohesiveness remains suspect. Reductions in consumer subsidies have strengthened the financial standing of the government, and high oil prices compensate for Iraq's anemic production levels. But overall, it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full.

*As Media Matters for America has noted, the State Department's April 2006 Section 2207 Report on Iraq Relief and Reconstruction estimated nationwide prewar electricity availability in Iraq at between four and 12 hours daily, suggesting that the current availability of 11.3 hours per day could be an improvement. But the report also estimated prewar electricity availability in Baghdad at between 12 and 24 hours daily, decidedly higher than the current 8.4 hours of availability.

From the June 16 broadcast of NBC's Today:

BROWN: So let me ask you both this question, and Michael, you start. Are we going to look back at this week and say, "This is the week President Bush got his mojo back?"

SMERCONISH: You know, James earned his stripes working for a guy who was eventually dubbed "the comeback kid," and James, there -- there's a new comeback kid. It's George W. Bush. It's great news not only, Campbell, for the president, but really any objective analysis of what's transpired, folks would have to say it's great news for the country. Zarqawi is dead. A treasure trove of documents has now been uncovered in the process and we're clamping down on the insurgents. Good things are happening in Iraq, where there's a fully formed government. On the domestic front, the market just had the best two days in the last three years. From the president's perspective, good news that Karl Rove isn't going to be indicted. Even on the immigration front, there's good news because guys got rounded up within the last couple of days. Some bad seeds who are being returned to their home country. So take out the hyperbole, anyone would have to say an extraordinary week and month for the president.

BROWN: All right. James. You're laughing. Go ahead.

CARVILLE: Yes. You know, yes. I mean, it's -- it's kind of -- it's kind of a pitiful thing. This is the biggest one point jump in an approval rating in the history of American politics. If he ever got to 40, I think Norah O'Donnell and her colleagues would have a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue for him. This is wild. He's at 37 percent and his top aide didn't get indicted. What a week for this administration! Then we wake up this morning, we see in the paper that -- that confidence in Iraq's -- in Iraqis and their government is plummeting. Oil production is below pre-war levels. Electricity is below. The number of insurgent attacks are [sic] up. But look, it is good we got this guy out. I just -- for the life of me, he goes from 36 to 37 and we're about to declare a national holiday in this country. You talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. I -- I can't imagine that we're sitting here with NBC's own poll showing -- showing the president --

BROWN: All right, James. Let me clarify something. Let me just clarify something, because the poll was taken after Zarqawi was killed, but before Rove -- the announcement was made that Rove wasn't going to be prosecuted and before -- before Bush went to Iraq. But in fairness you make -- you make an OK point, and Michael, getting Zarqawi was a big deal and the president did only move up one point in our Wall Street Journal poll. What do you attribute that to?

SMERCONISH: Well I don't think it has yet settled in, all of the good things that have taken place in Iraq. And James, respectfully, that's a pretty selective reading of the data that's presented by the Brookings Institution in today's New York Times. The most critical bit of information, from my reading, is that 60,000 Iraqi police officers and soldiers are now in the top two readiness categories. In other words, to determine their own destiny and take control of their own situation. And that's what's most important. Because we all want to get out of there sooner rather than later. And it looks like, Campbell, the Iraqi police are finally trained to protect themselves.

Posted In
Economy, Government, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Michael Smerconish
Show/Publication
Today Show
Stories/Interests
Polling
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