September 21, 2006

Reading The NY Times Backwards

My lovely wife has a style of communication that is endearing but one that I've needed to adjust my comprehension skills to really appreciate.

In a nutshell, she tells long stories. I mean really long stories, often including details and information that I as the listener find to be unnecessary and even distracting. I often tell her, "Hon, give me the punchline first. Then go back and fill in the details" (in a gentle way, of course, from which she does not take offense).

That is similar to the way I read a New York Times article. I go to the punchline first.

Case in point is yesterday's article on a recent poll related to the performance of the U.S. Congress, "Poll Finds Most Americans Displeased With Congress". Starting with the headline and meandering through the opening paragraphs, the article paints a picture of a Congress that is ripe for turnover:

With the midterm elections less than seven weeks away, Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican-controlled Congress, with substantial majorities saying that they disapprove of the job it is doing and that its members do not deserve reelection, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The disregard for Congress is the most intense it has been since 1994, when Republicans captured 52 seats to end four decades of Democratic control of the House and retook the Senate as well. It underlines the challenge the Republican Party faces in trying to hold onto power in the face of a surge in anti-incumbent sentiment.

The following paragraphs are dedicated to the statistical unpopularity of George W. Bush, something that - in my opinion, anyway - bears little relevance to how the public feels about Congress. Now the Times is clearly implying that dissatisfaction with the performance of the Senate and the House of Representatives (and oh, by the way, the President as well) is a harbinger of a Democratic takeover, similar the the GOP wins in 1994. And a lazy reader (or one who is eager to accept this notion) would stop there and come away with that conviction. The paper is probably anticipating this result.

But wait. If you bother to continue down (and way down) to the end of the article you get this observation:

For all the clear dissatisfaction with the 109th Congress, 39 percent of respondents said their own representative deserved re-election, compared with 48 percent who said it was time for someone new. What is more, it seems highly unlikely Democrats would experience a sweep similar to the one Republicans experienced in 1994. Most political analysts judge only about 40 House seats to be in play at the moment, compared with more than 100 seats at this point 12 years ago, in large part because redistricting has created more safe seats for both parties...

...Voters said that Democrats were more likely to tell the truth than Republicans when talking about the war and Iraq and about the actual threat of terrorism. And 59 percent of respondents said that Mr. Bush was hiding something when he talked about how things were going in Iraq, while another 25 percent said he was mostly lying when talking about the war.

Not that Democrats should draw any solace from that: 71 percent of respondents said they believed Democrats in Congress were hiding something when they talked about how well things were going in Iraq — while 13 percent said they were mostly lying.

See what I mean?

So here's my advice: when reading the Times, read the punchline first. I't could save you from a big waste of time.

And I think that "punchline" is an apt term, considering what a joke that paper has become.

Posted by: Gary at 07:01 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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