Saturday, August 2, 2008

One Stupid Too Many.

I've refrained from picking on the campus student newspaper for months. The whys should be obvious:
  • Picking on newly-minted adults still not in the real world is like slapping a baby kitten around. Hard.
  • They're students, still learning journalism. The quality of reporting is almost always going to be 3rd or 4th tier. And the Daily's quality has been mediocre at best for decades.
  • This is a conservative campus - I'm loath to admit it, but the truth is that a majority of the student population was raised rural or in Iowa and this is a professionally-inclined engineering college.
  • So the summer staff of the Daily is conservative - strongly so. But cursing natural trends is like yelling into the wind.
  • I'm anonymous.
  • I have to have good relations with the rest of the university, and I have to have respect and get respect from the student staff I oversee. It's obvious that many people here have different politics or are completely ambivalent to politics.
  • What goddamn good does it do me, other than personal ego gratification?
But no more. "EDITORIAL: Americans rightly fail to react to Obama's travels" Iowa State Daily, 7/31/08.

The obvious response to The Daily editorial is how the hell do they know what Americans are thinking? The editorial mentions polling results as the supposition for their argument, but does not mention which polls.

It's possible that the polls the editorial staff has seen weren't truly measuring the the Obama trip. At the latest for publishing, the opinion would have had to be written Wednesday, July 30th in the late hours. Obama was hitting the top of the headlines July 24th, six days earlier. In theory, news & even impact doesn't show up for 6-10 days in most polling results. The overseas trip, which was well covered, didn't hit its crescendo until the speech in Germany. And some voices believe it did lead to a bounce.

FiveThrityEight & ElectoralVote offer two different views - EV shows that Obama had a slight loss over the last 2-3 weeks, but may be regaining. 538 shows a similar trend. Both are poll aggregators - so they should hopefully average out any outliers or poorly constructed polls.

The second point is that equating polling and actual American opinion is usually misleading and fallacious. Especially when you don't correlate which poll and why it presumes to accurately reflect American consensus opinion. Whom did the poll measure? How many people did it ask? How are they affiliated? How did it ask the questions?

Third: "Quite the vacation itinerary, really." What vacation? Most politicians love campaigning, but I don't think I've heard of one who hasn't still considered it work. It's a misleading frame for the opinion - and it's textbook rhetoric for an argument who wants to deny the basic facts. The editors should know better.

Fourth & last: "Last time anybody checked, none of Obama's foreign destinations held any electoral votes" True, but the American image and brand has taken a beating in the last 7 years. Many Americans desire a change in leadership simply because our government's name is mud overseas (much less here). Obama may have been speaking directly to the Germans, Iraqis, & Israelis, but he was speaking to his constituency back home at the same time. To deny that we don't value foreign opinion of our country and government is simply erroneous. It's not an issue of Not Getting It - the editors simply Didn't Want To Get It.

One of the things that's first taught to aspiring teachers is that one of the greatest challenges of the classroom is not those who don't understand, but those who don't want to understand. The Daily editorial staff has made the entire summer an exercise in Didn't Want To Get It. God help their instructors.

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