Journalism Politics

Politico Discusses Skewed Polling About an Arbitrary Debt Ceiling

It must be hard to report on non-facts about arbitrary arguments in Washington, but that didn’t stop one Politico reporter from giving it the old college try. Still, the following story is riddled with silliness:

Debt ceiling story drives media numbers – Keach Hagey –

So far, the only clear winner in the debt ceiling negotiation story is the media.

Public interest in the story continues to climb, according to new data out Wednesday morning from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, with 38 percent of study respondents saying they followed the story very closely last week, up from 34 percent the previous week. The debt talks were the top story for both the public and the news media both weeks.

To start with, Pew’s own reporting on its weekly news poll says, “Debt Stalemate Top Story, But No Surge in Public Interest.” So while the story is obviously the top respondent choice, that may just as easily be because this is a slow time in news. More on that later…

Moreover, there is a small problem with the idea of “interest polls,” in that while they might indicate what people believe aught to be the most interesting story, they probably don’t indicated the story that is in fact most closely being watched. For example, economic news always ranks very high in these polls, but my own (admittedly non-scientific) research on what links get clicked tells a different story. I don’t see any reason to think people’s interest in economic news is not very strong at all. And after all, they don’t call economics “The Dismal Science” for no reason at all.

It is equally silly to say that, “A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week found similarly strong engagement on the issue, with 55 percent of respondent saying that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be a serious problem.” First, because people regard the outcome as a serious issue does in no way indicate that they’re paying closer attention to it. Nor does it suggest that the media is “winning” the issue by getting more eyeballs and advertisement revenue.

And in the silliest of silly bits, the article goes on to describe how often Fox and MSNBC discussed the debt debate, then says this is the reason for the concurrent rise in viewership over the weekend. I guess this reporter just plum forgot about the Oslo bombings on Friday?

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.