Media left out polling data in reporting Dems' claims of public support for withdrawal from Iraq

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Several news outlets missed a key point in their reporting on the Senate's defeat of two Democratic amendments calling for U.S. redeployment from Iraq: The Democrats' claim that their position reflects public opinion is backed by polling data showing that a majority of Americans support some form of withdrawal.

Following the Senate's defeat of two Democratic amendments calling for U.S. redeployment from Iraq, several news outlets reported that Democrats had "claimed to be in touch with U.S. public sentiment over the conflict" or "declared themselves on the same side as the majority of Americans." But missing from these reports was a key point: The Democrats' claim is backed by polling showing that a majority of Americans support some form of withdrawal.

After several days of contentious debate, on June 22, the Senate voted on two Democratic war resolutions, one proposed by Sens. John Kerry (MA) and Russ Feingold (WI) and the other sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (MI). Kerry's amendment set a deadline of July 1, 2007, for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops and failed by a vote of 86-13. Levin's measure, which called for the Bush administration to begin redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2006, was defeated by a vote of 60-39, with all but six Democrats voting in favor.

As Media Matters for America and others have noted in recent days, the media's coverage of the debate over the Democrats' withdrawal proposals has often overlooked the results of several recent polls, which show that a majority of Americans support pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. For instance, a June 14-19 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 52 percent of respondents believed that the United States should "set a timetable for when troops will be withdrawn from Iraq," while 42 percent disagreed. A CNN poll conducted June 14-15 similarly found that 53 percent of respondents favored a timetable for withdrawal, while 41 percent opposed such a measure. And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted June 9-12 showed that 57 percent of respondents supported reducing troop levels now, compared with 35 percent who favored maintaining the current deployment. Further, 54 percent of those surveyed by NBC said they would vote for a congressional candidate who favors "pulling all American troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months," while 32 percent said they would oppose such a candidate.

As with their handling of the debate, numerous news outlets' coverage of the June 22 votes similarly ignored the relevant data. These outlets characterized it as the Democrats' belief -- and not as an assertion supported by data -- that most Americans support withdrawal, omitting reference to actual polls:

  • A June 23 article by New York Times reporter Kate Zernike noted that Democrats "declared themselves on the same side as the majority of Americans" and described them as "believing that polls show a majority of Americans want troops to begin coming home."
  • In a June 23 article, Washington Post staff writer Charles Babington noted a Washington Post/ABC News poll's finding that "nearly two-thirds of Americans say" the war in Iraq is not worth fighting, but nonetheless went on to report that "[b]oth parties ... claimed to be in touch with U.S. public sentiment over the conflict."
  • On the June 22 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Chip Reid noted Democrats' position that "there needs to be a major course change in Iraq and a focus on getting the troops home" and added that they "say that is closer to how the American people feel about Iraq."
  • On the June 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Major Garrett reported that Feingold "proclaimed he and Kerry spoke for most Americans," before airing a clip of Feingold asserting, "I know that we represent the view of the majority of the American people."

By contrast, in an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney that aired on the June 22 edition of CNN's Situation Room, chief national correspondent John King responded to Cheney's assertion that "[t]he worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting," by citing the fact that "[f]ifty-four percent of the American people say it [the Iraq war] is a mistake, 55 percent say things are going badly in Iraq, 53 percent in our polling say the American people actually support a timetable." Similarly, on the June 22 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann introduced a segment on the Senate vote by noting, "Poll after poll after poll shows the same inescapable conclusion about Iraq: Americans do not like the war. Americans want the other Americans in harm's way there to be brought back here." On the June 22 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross reported that "[m]ost Americans still oppose the president's policy [on Iraq] and support a soft timetable for withdrawal."

From the June 22 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): And with us tonight for more, from the Hill in Washington, NBC's Chip Reid. And Chip, what is the dynamic here? If polls tell us this is an increasingly unpopular war for Americans, and if Democrats have that argument, how is it the two Democratic arguments went down to defeat?

REID: Well, I'll tell you Brian, in typical Washington fashion, both sides are claiming victory here today. The Republicans say they're united behind their "stay the course" position. They say the Democrats are divided and appear weak on national security. Democrats, though, say they may have some differences on timing, but they say they agree on a fundamental point, and that is that there needs to be a major course change in Iraq and a focus on getting the troops home. And they say that is closer to how the American people feel about Iraq.

From the June 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry defied party leaders and demanded a vote on a timetable to withdraw U.S. forces, opening the party to charges of abandoning the mission in Iraq. Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold stood with Kerry. Even as he predicted defeat, Feingold proclaimed he and Kerry spoke for most Americans.

FEINGOLD: We understand that we are not going to get a majority here. We know we're not going to even get anywhere near a majority, but the senator and I know that we represent the view of the majority of the American people.

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