Thursday, July 01, 2004

Daily Howler's Howler Underestimates Americans

The Daily Howler, unmatched in critiquing the media’s right-wing bias, committed a howler of his own

what do American voters think? American voters are clueless, as always. More than half the American people still think Saddam was behind 9/11. The public is completely misinformed on this point—and the deceptions continue apace.

But as Oliver Kamm notes this cliche is based on a surface reading of the polls

Since le Carre wrote, the legend has persisted. One much-trumpeted poll reported in the Washington Post last September concluded that 69 per cent of Americans "thought it at least likely that Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon" - yet it's clear that this finding depends on the way the question is asked. Since February 2003 the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland has regularly tested public opinion on the relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda, asking respondents to select one of four options ranging from "no connection at all" to "Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks". The latter option has been supported consistently by around 20 per cent - and never more than 25 per cent - of respondents. The belief is flat wrong - but it is (a) substantially lower than the figure cited by the Financial Times and (b) not the same belief as that cited by the FT, either ("was directly involved" is a weaker claim than "was behind"). The bulk of respondents opted for either "a few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials" (a view held consistently by around 30 per cent) or (emphasis added) "Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda but was not involved in the September 11th attacks" (around 35 per cent).

Those two middle options strike me as entirely plausible and indeed likely claims. Rather than revealing a nefarious propaganda campaign by the White House, they testify to the good sense and scepticism of American public opinion. I wish the same characteristics were as much in evidence in the pages of the world's premier financial daily.

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