Rosen cited flawed poll to say Democrats "desperately want to believe" in 9-11 conspiracy theory

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Mike Rosen of Newsradio 850 KOA misrepresented the results of a flawed poll to suggest that Democrats "desperately want to believe" that President Bush knew terrorists were going to attack the United States on September 11, 2001.

On his May 16 broadcast, Newsradio 850 KOA host Mike Rosen echoed other conservative commentators by misrepresenting the results of a Rasmussen Reports poll question to imply that Democrats "desperately want to believe" President Bush knew about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in advance and deliberately did nothing to stop them.

After reading to his audience nearly all of National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated May 15 column -- which dubiously claimed that "1 in 3 Democrats believe that Bush was in on it [the 9-11 plot] somehow" -- Rosen asserted, "[I]t indicates that so many Democrats who say 'yes' to this want to believe that it's true, even if it's not true. Or want to create the impression for others who might be exposed to this poll that Bush knew." Rosen added, "That a president of the United States would have so little regard for his own citizens as to do something like this, and that he could possibly get away with it. Imagine the number of people who would have to be involved in a plot like this. Absolutely implausible, but some people desperately want to believe this kind of thing. They've got a problem if they really want to believe it. The ones who actually do believe it have an even worse problem."

According to Rasmussen Reports, respondents were asked, "Did Bush know about the 9/11 attacks in advance?" Twenty-two percent replied that he did, 55 percent that he did not, and 22 percent were not sure. According to the poll, "Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure. Republicans reject that view and, by a 7-to-1 margin, say the President did not know in advance about the attacks. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 18% believe the President knew and 57% take the opposite view." The poll was conducted April 30-May 1 and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

As Media Matters for America noted, Goldberg asserted in his column that the Rasmussen poll found Democrats "are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance," and declared that "a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds." Yet as Goldberg himself admitted, the poll question was ambiguous. "Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent or that he failed to connect the dots or that they're just answering in a fit of pique," Goldberg wrote. In other words, respondents could have been merely saying that Bush received ample warning of possible attacks.

In fact, President Bush received a briefing on August 6, 2001, titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US," which indicated that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wanted to launch terrorist attacks on U.S. cities, that members of his terrorist network had lived in or traveled to the United States for years, that bin Laden had previously said he wanted to hijack an American aircraft, and that "FBI information ... indicate[d] patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." Investigative journalist Ron Suskind wrote in his book The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006) that Bush responded to this report by telling the CIA briefer, "All right, you've covered your ass, now."

Later in the show, when a caller challenged Rosen's assessment of the poll results, Rosen asked him, "[D]o you believe that President Bush knew about the 9-11 attack in advance?" The caller answered, "I think he knew but he didn't take it seriously. He didn't coordinate it." Attempting to clarify the "implication" of the poll question, Rosen then made a "distinction" between knowing the U.S. was vulnerable to attacks and knowing specific details, but he did not acknowledge the ambiguity of the question itself:

ROSEN: That's not -- that, that's a completely different issue that you're talking about. It's awfully easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say that President Bush and before him President Clinton didn't do enough to protect American assets from terrorist attacks. It's, it's another thing to say that there's reason to believe that the United States might have been a target of the same kind of terrorist attacks that afflicted other nations. Of course you can plausibly say that. But even if you did take our vulnerability seriously, there are severe limits in an open society to what we possibly could have done to protect ourselves from such an attack. That's hardly the same thing as saying that President Bush knew about it. And by "knew about it," the implication, [caller], is that he knew specifics, not just that there was some concern that the United States might be vulnerable to an attack. Do you understand the distinction I'm making?

From the May 16 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Mike Rosen Show:

ROSEN: Jonah Goldberg writing in the L.A. Times the other day -- he also writes for National Review Online -- had an interesting column. This has to do with polls. We were talking about some polls earlier of where the Republican presidential wannabes stand, with Rudy Giuliani on top of the list, John McCain a close second, and then nobody else very close after that. I think Mitt Romney was about 8 percent; Giuliani was closer to 30 percent. Here's another poll. And this is the one that Jonah Goldberg is zeroing in on. Rasmussen Reports -- and the headline over this, this column of his is "Just how crazy are the Democrats?" A new poll on 9-11 indicates that they definitely have a paranoia problem.

Rasmussen Reports, the public opinion outfit, recently asked voters whether President Bush knew about the 9-11 attacks beforehand. The findings? As Rasmussen puts it: "Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George Bush knew about the 9-11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he knew in advance. Thirty-nine percent say he did not know, and 26 percent aren't sure" but are considering the possibility that he knew in advance.

So, 1 in 3 Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow, and a majority of Democrats -- 65 percent -- either believe that Bush knew about the attacks in advance or can't quite make up their minds.

There are only three ways to respond to this finding: It's absolutely true, in which case the paranoid style of American liberalism has reached a fevered crescendo. Or, option B, it's not true and we can stop paying attention to these kinds of polls. Or there's option C -- a little of both.

Jonah Goldberg votes for option C. But, he says:

Before we get there we should work through the ramifications of options A and B.

We don't know what kind of motive respondents had in mind for Bush, but the most common version has Bush craftily enabling a terror attack as a way to whip up support for his foreign policy without too many questions.

The problem with rebutting this sort of allegation is that there are too many reasons why it's so stupid. It's like trying to explain to a 4-year-old why Superman isn't real. You can spend all day talking about how kryptonite just wouldn't work that way, or you can just say, "It's make believe."

Similarly, why try to explain that it's implausible that Bush was evil enough to let this happen and clever enough to get away with it -- yet incapable, either morally or intellectually, of doing it again? After all, if he's such a villainous super-genius to have paved the way for 9-11 without getting caught, why stop there? Democrats constantly insinuate that Bush plays politics with terror warnings on the assumption that the higher the terror level, the more support he has. Well, a couple of more 9-11s and Dick Cheney will finally be able to get that shiny Bill of Rights shredder he always wanted, in the distorted imagination of leftists.

And if Bush -- who Democrats insist is a moron -- is clever enough to greenlight one 9-11, why is Iraq such a blunder? Surely a James Bond villain like Bush would just plant some weapons of mass destruction.

No, the right response to the Rosie O'Donnell wing of the Democratic Party is, "It's just make believe." But if they really believe it, then liberals must stop calling themselves the "reality-based" party and stop objecting to the suggestion that they have a problem with being called anti-American. Because when 61 percent of Democrats polled consider it plausible or certain that the U.S. government would let this happen, well, "blame America first" doesn't really begin to cover it, does it?

So then there's option B -- the poll is just wrong. This is quite plausible. Indeed, the poll is surely partly wrong. Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent, or that he failed to connect the dots, or that they're just answering in a fit of pique. I'm game for option B. But if we're going to throw this poll away, I think liberals need to offer the same benefit of the doubt when it come to data that are more convenient for them. For example, liberals have been dining out on polls showing that Fox News viewers, or Republicans generally, are more likely to believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11. Now, however flimsy, tendentious, equivocal, or sparse you may think the evidence that Hussein had a hand in 9-11 may be, it's ironclared -- excuse me, ironclad -- compared with the nugatory proof that Bush somehow permitted or condoned those attacks.

And then there's option C, which is most assuredly the reality. The poll is partly wrong or misleading, but it's also partly right and accurate. So maybe it's not 1 in 3 Democrats suffering from paranoid delusions. Maybe it's only one in five, or one in 10. In other words, the problem isn't as profound as the poll makes it sound. But that doesn't mean the Democratic Party doesn't have a serious problem.

I'm thinking that when people respond to a poll like that, even if they don't really believe rationally that Bush knew about 9-11 and allowed it to proceed, or even worse, that Bush designed the 9-11 attack, even if they don't really believe that, they're inclined to say they do to a pollster. Or to say, "Well, it might be true, I'm not sure," rather than just laugh it off, because it gives them yet another opportunity to think badly or to say something nasty to a pollster about George W. Bush. So perhaps it's, it's therapeutic of them to answer a question like this, which really is just venting, rather than hold their own answer up to rational scrutiny in their own mind of how implausible this would actually be. That a president of the United States -- who's a father and a husband and a son, who's a veteran of the United States military himself -- would allow something like this to happen and not do anything about it if, in advance if he had knowledge. Or, even worse, plan something like this. That a president of the United States would have so little regard for his own citizens as to do something like this, and that he could possibly get away with it. Imagine the number of people who would have to be involved in a plot like this. Absolutely implausible, but some people desperately want to believe this kind of thing. They've got a problem if they really want to believe it. The ones who actually do believe it have an even worse problem.

[...]

ROSEN: When you look at Republicans' answer to the same question, Republicans reject the view that he knew by a 7-to-1 margin. Among those not affiliated with either major party 18 percent believe the president knew. That compares to the 35 percent of Democrats who believe that he knew. And yet again it indicates that so many Democrats who say "yes" to this want to believe that it's true, even if it's not true. Or want to create the impression for others who might be exposed to this poll that Bush knew. And this is their way of helping to create that impression even if they don't honestly believe when they think about it rationally that the president could have known about it. It's also interesting to note that young Americans were more likely than their elders to believe that the president or the CIA knew about the attacks in advance. And that's not surprising. Younger Americans tend to be more simplistic and less sophisticated and more likely to buy into something like this.

Another element of it too: imagine George W. Bush, or any president of the United States, who's not secretly a spy from some other country taking the risk that for all of, for all of history people will look back and say that President X masterminded a plot that killed 3,000 Americans on September 11th. He did this to his own country. Or that he knew of the attack and did nothing about it. What president, what human being, would want to go down in history with that black mark on his reputation?

[...]

ROSEN: What's on you mind?

CALLER: Well, my mind is the way you present it. That the Democrats saying that Bush knew that war is going to happen September 11. I don't think the Democrats saying, my opinion, that he coordinated or he meant it to happen.

ROSEN: I just gave you the results of the poll.

CALLER: Well, I'm talking about the poll.

ROSEN: Yes.

CALLER: Well, [unintelligible] I'm a registered Democrat.

ROSEN: Yes.

CALLER: And --

ROSEN: And, and how would you, how would you answer that question?

CALLER: What question?

ROSEN: If the pollster asked you, "Do you believe that George W. Bush knew about the 9-11 terrorist attacks in advance, or even worse, that he helped plan those attacks?" How would you answer that question?

CALLER: I would have to make a comment before I answered your question.

ROSEN: No, you wouldn't have to make a comment because there's no provision in the poll for the comment. They're just asking you the question. And then they're recording your answer. So why don't you start by giving me your answer and then if you want to embellish, go ahead and embellish. So what would your answer be to the question?

CALLER: Well, I would have to comment. If not, then I would say, "No comment."

ROSEN: So they'd put you down as not sure?

CALLER: Well, if that's what they wanted to do, of course.

ROSEN: OK. Well maybe that's what skews this poll.

ROSEN: So, even -- if you weren't talking to a pollster then, if you're talking to me, which you are, do you believe that President Bush knew about the 9-11 attack in advance?

CALLER: Are you asking me as a poller or with comment --

ROSEN: I'm just asking you.

CALLER: OK. Well --

ROSEN: I'm asking you as [caller]. What's your answer to the question?

CALLER: I think he knew but he didn't take it seriously. He didn't coordinate it. He didn't want it to be, you know, September 11, disaster for this country. I don't think he believed that -- anybody believed that he did it on purpose. But he didn't do enough about it. He could have prevent it. He didn't take it seriously.

ROSEN: That's not -- that, that's a completely different issue that you're talking about. It's awfully easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say that President Bush and before him President Clinton didn't do enough to protect American assets from terrorist attacks. It's, it's another thing to say that there's reason to believe that the United States might have been a target of the same kind of terrorist attacks that afflicted other nations. Of course you can plausibly say that. But even if you did take our vulnerability seriously, there are severe limits in an open society to what we possibly could have done to protect ourselves from such an attack. That's hardly the same thing as saying that President Bush knew about it. And by "knew about it," the implication, [caller], is that he knew specifics, not just that there was some concern that the United States might be vulnerable to an attack. Do you understand the distinction I'm making?

CALLER: [unintelligible]

ROSEN: The, the question has the implication that George Bush had specific details about the nature of this attack and the timing of this attack. Do you believe that?

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