Media manipulation in the Badger State


I picked up a good flick the other day at Four Star Video that I recommend to my readers interested in campaign politics. Bogeyman: The Lee Atwater Story tells the tale of the late Republican strategist who has come to define the strategy of the modern GOP, and whose legacy lives on through the work of his protégé, Karl Rove. Atwater’s work was defined most by its subtleness. Not only did he understand how to connect his candidate’s message to the electorate, but he knew how to work that message into supposedly pure and unbiased mediums of communication: the press.

The movie came to mind when I read a post at One Wisconsin Now which discusses the Wisconsin media’s dangerous deference  to polls. Any kind of polls. Even ones released by partisan organizations who manipulate the questions to get certain responses, and most importantly, choose which part of the poll is made public.

There was a time when newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would not report on a poll unless it had the entire poll, rather than partial or selective results that are strategically released or leaked to try to shape news coverage of a campaign. The Milwaukee paper would do its own polling.

Perhaps because of lack of resources, those days are “long gone,” says the author. Here’s where it gets interesting:

One firm that has raised a lot of questions from political practitioners — but, unfortunately, not from the media, is Strategic Vision, a Republican strategy firm based in Atlanta (and, it claimed, in Madison). Strategic Vision has released all sorts of polls in Wisconsin in the last few years, all eagerly reported by the news media.

Luckily the pollster community has raised attention about Strategic Vision’s tactics. Nate Silver, the former baseball statistician-turned-political pollster has suggested that SV is not even conducting real polls, but simply making up slightly skewed but plausible results!

As I commented at One Wisconsin, pollsters are not the only problem. There are also the “think tanks” and study groups which claim to be non-partisan but supply selective information to media outlets. Various “taxpayer” advocacy groups come to find immediately. Local papers especially seem to fall victim to this type of manipulation. It is not hard to find a citation from a right-wing interest group in the Badger Herald or Daily Cardinal with no type of disclosure about the group’s political goals. I’m sure the same definitely happens on the left, but I haven’t noticed it as much.

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