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June 18, 2009

Get Me Rewrite: NYT and WSJ Both Change Headlines to Spin for Obama on Poll

Is this a big deal?

I'll tell you it is. Because the NYT's changed headline just had the intended effect on me.

I had just read, about an hour ago, that the WSJ and NYT poll had both found some danger for Obama as the public's mood shifts.

With [health care and climate change] initiatives and others pending, is Obama's window for major legislative action beginning to close?

That's the question raised by a pair of new surveys, both of which show overall support for Obama's policies slippling. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found small but measurable drops in Obama's approval rating and his handling of the economy. "These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president's personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency," the Journal suggests in its dramatic write-up of the poll, while MSNBC quotes pollster Peter Hart saying: "There is no more smooth sailing for the administration. They are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”

The New York Times/CBS News poll reached similar conclusions, finding that the public is increasingly concerned about the budget deficit and that fewer than half of respondents approve of Obama's handling of health care and the auto industry. So is Obama's presidency really slipping away?

Now, the WSJ poll I linked last night. The NYT poll I hadn't heard of, so I clicked on it. The headline...

Obama Poll Sees Doubt on Budget and Health Care

...instantly said "snoozer" to me and I navigated away. I didn't bother to read it. The headline successfully dissuaded me from reading or linking the poll.

But the article originally ran with a more interesting headline, as the Rhetorican notes.

In Poll, Obama Is Seen as Ineffective on the Economy

Now that is a headline that demands you read the article.

Similarly, the WSJ article on their own poll went from...

Rising Doubts Threaten to Overshadow Obama’s Agenda

to...

Public Wary of Deficit, Economic Intervention

Two newspapers published a poll finding growing doubts about Obama. Both started the day with strong, punchy, grabby headlines that suggested strongly that Obama was approaching serious trouble. And both, within a night, changed their headlines to be bland and protective of Obama.

I suggest this is no coincidence. The Obama White House is scared shitless about the public changing its mind in a hurry, and they want to continue the "Everyone loves Obama" narrative they currently have going, which helps keep public opinion on his side. Because if everyone loves Obama, you'd have to be weird not to, right?

That bandwagon effect may not be huge, but if a mere 5% of the public is so soft-minded as to simply parrot whatever opinion they believe is predominant, that's worth a ten point net swing from one side to the other. And in a 53-46 country, ten points is obviously decisive.

So last night Axelrod or Emmanuel (or even Obama himself; he's done it before) called the editors of the NYT and WSJ and yelled some and maybe told them they were "feeding into right-wing propaganda" (one of their favorite claims when seeking to pressure the liberal press) and both papers dutifully walked back their original headlines.

Both papers buckled. They had originally determined that their polls said X but after a White House fixer yelled at them and hurt their feelings they decided it meant Y instead.

Strange days. Strange, pathetic, disgusting days.

This suggests that Obama knows full well how tenuous his paper-thin popularity really is. They're desperate to avoid even a mention in a big newspaper that maybe Obama isn't all that popular after all, or that his popularity may soon be ending. They can't, and won't, have that.



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posted by Ace at 01:42 PM

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