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Greed and Excess at the New York Times

From The Scrapbook

Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The timing of a New York Times poll showing Barack Obama’s approval rating dropping like a rock was almost too perfect. “Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment With G.O.P.,” read the headline of a March 11 story in the Times. Six reporters strung together a series of interviews purporting to show that GOP opposition to Obama’s new contraception and abortifacient mandate was badly hurting Republicans with moderate and independent female voters. To its credit, the Times noted that its evidence was “anecdotal, not conclusive.”

Indeed. The following day, the New York Times/CBS News poll in question was released. It showed Obama’s approval at an all-time low of 41 percent​—​down 9 points from the Times’s February poll. But why? The economy was on the rebound. Was there a polling glitch? Perhaps, but a Washington Post/ABC poll conducted over the same period also found Obama’s numbers dropping from February. Both the Times and the Post suggested rising gas prices were the likely culprit.

Jonathan Chait of New York magazine pointed to studies showing that gas prices don’t move poll numbers and offered another possible reason Obama had taken a hit. “The jobs report reflected good news, of course. But this may actually be the problem for Obama. A Democracy Corps survey from last month tested elements of Obama’s State of the Union address. The whole thing fared extremely well, except for one bit, where Obama boasted that ‘America is back,’ ” Chait wrote. “Obama appeared at a factory to hail the [jobs report], and even declared later that day, yes, ‘America is coming back.’ ”

Hmmm. The Scrapbook has an alternative hypothesis. Seems to us that one poorly poll-tested phrase, uttered at a fundraiser in Houston, may have had less to do with Obama’s poll numbers than a national debate that had been raging for a full week when the polls were taken.

On March 1, the Senate narrowly voted down an amendment to retain existing conscience exemptions, allowing Americans to opt out of Obama-care’s new contraception and abortifacient mandate for religious or moral reasons. That week the nation was subjected to a media firestorm​—​online and in print, on the nightly news and the Sunday shows​—​about a Republican “war on women” epitomized by Rush Limbaugh’s derogatory remarks about Sandra Fluke. Fluke is the 30-year-old Georgetown Law student who had testified before a congressional panel about the need for a federal mandate to force Georgetown, and other religious institutions, to foot the cost of students’ birth control pills. Obama waded into the Limbaugh-Fluke flap and discussed his reasons for doing so at a March 6 press conference.

According to the Times poll conducted from March 7 to 11, Americans support a conscience exemption to the birth control mandate for religious institutions by a 21-point margin (57 percent to 36 percent) and support a conscience exemption for all employers by an 11-point margin (51 percent to 40 percent). 

Of course, these numbers weren’t mentioned in the Times’s write-up of its own poll. That’s because the numbers suggest, as Mickey Kaus wrote at the Daily Caller, that “Obama wasn’t such a genius to pick a fight over mandated contraception coverage,” a debate “he appears to be losing.”

Stimulating Lobbyists

Remember the debate over the stimulus bill? Anyone with any sense at all predicted that the government’s dispersing $800 billion with a legislative leaf blower would encourage corruption. In this respect, the stimulus is a gift that keeps on giving​—​rather in the manner of a communicable disease. Last week we learned about the latest developments in the stimulus-funded Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative, a $650 million grant program for obesity prevention and tobacco use handed out to 30 states and the District of Columbia. Whether it will do anything about obesity remains to be seen, but the Daily Caller reports that the program has been remarkably successful at fattening the wallets of lobbyists: 

Money from some of the CPPW grants and also from the Community Transformation Grants (CTGs)​—​another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program established to bolster the CPPW’s efforts​—​have been and are being used to lobby local governments in support of policies including sugar and soda taxes.

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