The Hill’s Survey: Political Ads (04/ 09/06)

Yikes! Yahoo! ate  my homework again. Twice.   Let’s see how much I can rewrite before the campus policemen at Roanoke College kick me out.  The picture above is by then Assistant Webmaster Lee Bennett of  About This Particular Macintosh (ATPM),  a monthly Internet magazine or “e-zine.”  His  desktop pictures from Washington, D.C. were taken in  the autumn of 2000.

Why the Capitol?  Because I want to share a story about The Hill Magazine.  Yesterday  I posted a link to Michelle Goldberg’s review of American Theocracy. (It’s terrific.)  In the strange and seredipitous ways of the internet I came across her name again today when I was checking out the background on a survey The Hill asked to take about a political ad sponsored by a group on whose advisory board Goldberg serves,  The Campaign to Defend the Constitution.

(The policemen kindly pointed me to the all-night lab and so I will continue when I arrive there…)

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The email dated Thursday came from a Bob Raymond of Wilson Research Strategies (WRS), but was signed by Hugo Gurdon, Editor in Chief  at  The Hill and Chris Wilson, Raymond’s boss and CEO of WRS.  Their  online survey panel would look at 

election campaign ads already being used by candidates or parties. We’d use your views as the basis of a new feature in The Hill’s coverage of federal elections.

Please…help us determine what politically savvy people think are the most effective ads of the election season.

Sounded okay, although a little fawning,  so I clicked.  What I read raised  my hackles.

The following ad is a project of The Tides Center and paid for by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution or DEFCON.  DEFCON is an online grassroots movement that claims they combat the power of the religious right.  The following ad links Ralph Reed, Rev. Louis R. Sheldon, and James Dobson with Jack Abramoff and casino gambling.

Was it the use of the word “claims”?  The seeming oversimplification of DefCon’s purpose.  All those capital letters that reminded me of combat readiness  or “the largest underground hacking convention in the world?”

The computer I was using at Roanoke College didn’t have a sound card, so I decided to look up WRS on SourceWatch.org.  There wasn’t a listing.  There is now.  I wrote it.   You’ll have to google it yourself as the last time I added the link, Yahoo erased my entry. 

But first, before resesarching WRS, I looked up DefCon, to find out how it explained  its mission.

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 The DefCon promised to

Mobilize concerned scientists, political leaders, and theologians to help Americans understand what is at stake.

Specifically within the religious community,  it

will work with leaders who share the values on which our country was founded.  We will expose the religious right who, though purporting to speak for people of faith, espouse values that run counter to the majority of people of faith and of the American public generally.

Here’s what it sees as important:

  • Separation of church and state as a core value in law and public policy;
  • Independence of the judiciary – safeguarding the courts from archconservatives who wish to undermine the Bill of Rights;
  • Science, medical research and technology and their crucial role in economic prosperity;
  • Individual privacy including the right to decide for oneself whether to have a baby or how to die and equal rights for all couples regardless of gender.

Reason. Personal freedom.  The rule of law.  Gosh, that sounds like a group with which I could agree.  And I’d already written about Ralph Reed  and his connection to Abramoff. 

Was the survey a push poll?  Maybe the problem was that Bob Moser had written about Reed, too, in an article, “The Devil Inside”  for the April 17, 2006  Nation.  It’s  already on newsstands–in another piece of serendipity, I had been reading the article last night.

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So who is WRS?  Here’s what I found out.  The public relations firm was founded in 1998.  According to a February 25, 2002 article in Washington Business Journal, “Opinion researcher Wilson rings up 411.”   It turns out that it had been  relaunched in August 2001 as a subsidiary of  Qorvis Communications, which has a long list of questionable practice.   (Again see the article in Sourcewatch.org

 In perusing the principals, many have connections to Republican campaigns.  In fact, in an article “Bush Just Has to Run Out the Clock”  published  October 27, 2004,  in Winning Campaigns,  I found on the WRS website, the  firm’s founder WRS   founder Chris Wilson (the  signer of my email) described WRS as 

a McLean, VA –based Republican poling company.

According to its website, WRS’s primary work is the “launching new corporate initiatives and winning political campaigns, both here and abroad.” Besides collecting and analyzing data, it develops “actionable strategies and tactics to best position our clients with respect to their competitors” and has “issued hundreds of press releases, been quoted in major media outlets, and have made numerous appearances on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC, and C-SPAN.”

WRS states that its clients include 100 of the current Fortune 500 corporations. According to the web index, DMOZ Open Directory Project, in addition to major corporations, the firm serves “Republican candidates and conservative organizations.”  Back in  February 25, 2002, Washington Business Journal said of WRS,

About 30 to 40 percent of the company’s work is political and its biggest clients include Pfizer, Saudi Arabia and the National Restaurant Association.

SourceWawtch reports that an American Indian site One NationLies.com  warned voters that  One Nation (US)’s (an anti-sovereignty group) had  “linkages to inside pressure-spin and push poll artists, i.e. Wilson Research Strategies in D.C. and Qorvis Communications.”

Another interesting tidbet on the WRS site, was an article Wilson wrote, “Advanced Polling Techniques: Road to the Right Message,  published in the December-January 2002 Campaign & Elections Magazine.   

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Later I decided to take a look at the survey, even if I couldn’t view the ad.  Other than the introduction, at first there was nothing to further raise  suspicion.  At the end of the suveym WRS provided an innocuous story  analyzing the results of a prior  survey which  The Hill published March 31 about a Republican gubenatorial candidate:  “DeVos’s new Mich. ad unlikely to generate buzz.”

Then I got to thinking again about the survey.  Unlike features which evaluate the truth of the claims,  like Annenberg’;s  Political Fact Check , all The Hill’s articles write about is the impression ads make on viewers.  Of course, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation and  accepts  no funding from businesses, labor unions, political parties or lobbyists.  Unlike Annenburg,  WRS is in the business of manipulating public opinion.  

As I went to look up the first story in the series is was not as innocuous–it claimed to find a more favorable assessment about a campaign ad showing Iraq War veterans complaining about the lack of good news.   That ad was sponsored by Progress for America.  These are the folks behind campaigns to get Roberts and Alito on the bench and to privatise Social Security.  You’d never know it from their mission verbage on their verbage, which is much more covert than Def-Con’s:

Progress for America, Inc. (“PFA”) is an issue advocacy/grassroots organization committed to representing a diverse coalition of concerned citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations and community leaders who promote public policies that improve the lives of every American.

So,  I’m wondering how WRS portrayed them in the survey.  I didn’t register with the Hill in time to get one.  I don’t know if Mr. Wilson will send me a copy–I’ll ask him.  But in the article which appeared, he described PFA as merely “Republican-leaning.”  If they leaned any further they’d fall down, unless they have the resiliance of one of those  big-footed inflateable clown punching bags. 

I also question WRS’s depiction  Democrats acknowledging the ad  had a “strong message.”

But Democrats acknowledged that it has a “strong message.”  Just one sentence later, I read

On a scale of 0 to 10, 1 being totally ineffective and 10 being totally effective, Democrats, on average, assigned the ad a rating of 5.8 when it came to “strong message.”

If 5 is in the center–i.e. wishy-washing, how does a mear eight-tenths of a point tip the scale much? 

Hm-m-m.  Sort of seems like The Hill is publishing  spin about spin.  The survey seams more of a way for PR firms to evaluate their effectiveness than for voters to hold politicians accountable.  Why am I not surprised?

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And speaking of spin, you can check out your favorite practioners  at this directory.   Th-th-th-that’s all she wrote, folks.

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