Thursday, May 24, 2007

Terry talks—we listen

Imagine my surprise when I discovered late yesterday that my Tuesday post got a comment—any comment. But, really, imagine my surprise when I saw that said comment was from the named subject of said post:

Terry Moran said...

Thanks for the critique, and thanks for watching. But FYI--in my original lead-in into the piece, I did indeed say "leaned Democrats." It is a term of art in polling, and I was worried about using it precisely because some people might not grasp it. I see i was correct. Thanks again, Terry Moran.


First off, as I replied in the comments, I stand corrected. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Moran would take the time to write in if the broadcast version said differently—even if I don’t have a tape, a tape of the Monday show does exist—so, I’ll concede that I heard Terry wrong.

Second, let me thank Terry Moran for setting the record straight, for taking the time to read my post, and for taking the time to leave a comment. In case you readers have not observed this in the past, I encourage dialogue and appreciate the feedback.

But, allow me now, knowing that there is a small chance that Mr. Moran will be looking in again, to continue.

I might have misheard Terry on Monday, but that I did might be more a testament to my expectations than to my poor hearing. Moran did not say “you Democrats,” but I was primed to hear it. I was primed to misinterpret the fuzzy word, to make the cognitive leap, to, I’m afraid, assume that the message that left this media mouthpiece’s mouth was one that labeled Democrats as “other,” because that is the message I have heard so many times from Terry Moran.

Of course, Terry is not so crass or overtly unprofessional as to blurt out “Democrats suck! Especially you liberal ones!” But, in so many words, in the shape of a question, in the misinterpretation or misrepresentation of a left-leaning argument, in the little impromptu summations Moran often adds at the end of an interview or tape piece, I hear a bias that favors the political right (as opposed to left, not wrong, naturally), and favors the sensational headline over the more subtle or sensitive story. I have borne witness to this bias since Moran breathlessly reported from in front of the Texas Statehouse on an early November night back in the year 2000. I really had no ideas about Terry before that night, I barely knew who he was, but I knew instantly how he felt and where he stood.

And, in some respects, that’s OK. Members of the media, establishment or otherwise, are allowed to have opinions. The problem comes with the assumption that they keep those opinions to themselves—with the assumption that they are “unbiased.”

That is not to say that all journalism is somehow polluted by bias. There is a difference between a journalist and a pundit, a difference between reporting and interpreting, and a difference between asking hard questions and providing easy answers—the problem comes when establishment outlets allow the distinctions to blur.

Further, Terry’s gracious comment frames the problem as one of misunderstanding his word, but fails to address the larger point, namely, that he and his ABC colleagues chose to ignore the content of Al Gore’s book to instead focus on (what has been, and increasingly becomes more so) a non-issue.

Sure, some of us like Al Gore. We like what he has to say about the assault on reason, or about the environment, or about the war in Iraq (some of us also remember and dislike how he botched his 2000 presidential campaign), but because we are interested in his ideas, doesn’t mean that we are waiting with bated breath for our mystical leader to announce that he will lead us back to the White House. When he decides to join the race, if he decides to join the race, then I will evaluate and revisit my allegiances. Until then, well, there is no shortage of interesting candidates for us Democrats (I’m a blogger, I can do that) to observe, asses, and support. (Compared to what Republicans have—and what they are waiting for, too—it’s an embarrassment of riches.)

I feel pretty safe in saying that’s how most of “us Democrats” see things. I feel safe because of Moran’s own cited statistic—those “17% of leaned Democrats” that pine for a Gore candidacy. Fewer than one in five leaners is hardly a groundswell.

And that brings me to Terry’s Parthian shot—his “term of art” that he feels we did not, and cannot, grasp. I may not have heard it, but, as my update to my post makes very clear, once I heard it, I grasped it just fine.

I have been working with “leaned” respondents for over a decade. I am, after all, not just a blogger, I am also a strategic consultant. I know all the polling tricks to tease out the bias behind the assertion, to discern preference, to attempt to limn the consumer or voter. I know how to push a respondent, and how to “push” a poll, and I usually work overtime to gracefully do the former, and avoid doing the latter.

Pushing an “undecided” or a DK/NR (don’t know/no response) to weigh in on a question is a useful tool, but it is only a tool—one of many available to me in the drafting of the polling instrument and the interpretation of the data. I know that because of what I do, and others might know it, too. But if Terry Moran thinks this “term of art” (AKA “lingo” or “insider-speak”) is too obscure for the typical viewer, then why did he use it? Isn’t his job to communicate and educate, rather than impress and/or confuse his audience?

Again, I appreciate the correction. But alas, to the broader point and the parting broadside, I’m afraid I see that Mr. Moran was not correct at all.

Thanks again.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Terry Moran said...

1. I wasn't at "the Texas Statehouse on an early November night back in the year 2000." I was at the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee, covering the Gore campaign--an assignment I had been doing for ABC News for more than a year.

2. Far from "ignoring the content of Al Gore's book," I covered it at length in the Nightline piece. Here is the relelvant section from my script:

"To Gore, the Bush administration is a prime example of what he says is all wrong in American politics--an emphasis on fear and faith over logic and reason.

"But he stops short of agreeing with Jimmy Carter recent declaration."

MORAN: "WOULD YOU AGREE WITH PRESIDENT CARTER THAT THIS IS THE WORST ADMINISTRATION IN OUR HISTORY?"

GORE: "WELL, YOU KNOW, I'VE RECENTLY BEGUN TO FEAR THAT I'VE BEEN LOSING MY OBJECTIVITY ON BUSH AND CHENEY, SO I'M NOT YOUR BEST WITNESS ON -- YOU KNOW, I DIDN'T VOTE FOR THEM. LET ME PUT IT THAT WAY."

MORAN: "IS THAT A YES OR A NO?"

GORE: "WELL, I -- THEY WERE NOT MY CHOICE FOR OFFICE, BUT, LOOK, THAT'S NOT..."

MORAN: "I'M CURIOUS."

GORE: "BUT I'M NOT OBJECTIVE ON THEM AND -- I HAVE THE DEEPEST RESPECT FOR PRESIDENT CARTER, BUT I'M NOT THE BEST JUDGE OF -- I DIDN'T VOTE FOR THEM. YOU KNOW, I WOULD RATHER SOMEBODY ELSE DO THAT."

"What Gore says he would rather do right now is help fix the American democracy, which he says is broken--facts are ignored, debate is twisted in an 'Assault on Reason.'"

EXCERPTS FROM POLITICAL ADS, INCLUDING ANTI-FORD AD IN TN: "I MET HAROLD AT THE PLAYBOY CLUB."

"It begins with television, Gore claims--a medium he says is prone to fearmongering and emotional appeals, and far less able than newspapers and other print media to sustain reasoned, logical debate.

"And today, he says, powerful interests are able to manipulate fear and emotion through television so thoroughly that democracy itself is damaged."

GORE: "THE WAY WE CONDUCT THE CONVERSATION OF DEMOCRACY HAS CHANGED RADICALLY. IT'S MUCH MORE OF A ONE-WAY CONVERSATION NOW BETWEEN THOSE WHO ARE IN THE PRIVILEGED POSITIONS TO COMMAND THE AIRWAYS, AND THE REST OF US, FOR THE MOST PART, ARE WATCHING AND FIND IT VERY DIFFICULT IN THIS COMMUNICATIONS ENVIRONMENT FOR INDIVIDUALS TO PLAY A MEANINGFUL ROLE."

V/O: Bush and Rove together

"The Bush administration--Gore believes--has simply taken the current system to an extreme--an opinion that isn't surprising coming from the Democrat who lost to Bush in 2000."

MORAN: "NOW WHAT IF A REPUBLICAN, LOYAL REPUBLICAN, WERE TO READ THIS BOOK AND SAY, "WHAT AL GORE IS REALLY SAYING IS THAT IN 1992 AND 1996, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ACTED WITH REASON AND THEY WERE SMART AND THEY ELECTED BILL CLINTON AND AL GORE, AND THEN THEY WERE MANIPULATED BY POWER-MAD ZEALOTS AND THEY MADE THE WRONG CHOICE?"

GORE: "WELL, OF COURSE, THAT'S NOT WHAT THE BOOK SAYS AT ALL, AND I SPECIFICALLY CITE EXAMPLES WHEN -- DURING THE CLINTON-GORE ADMINISTRATION WHERE THESE SAME TRENDS WERE BEGINNING TO PICK UP STRENGTH. I THINK THAT IT'S BEEN A GROWING PROBLEM."

3. Gore's 17 percent of "leaned Democrats" in the ABC News poll I cited put him in third place in a crowded field, behind Clinton and Obama and ahead of Edwards. In politics, a non-candidate pulling that kind of number is significant.

4. In my business, when someone repeatedly gets basic, checkable facts wrong, they lose all credibility.

So, farewell.

5:38 PM  

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