I don’t read the Rhino Times any longer because, why would I? But when I was told that I was part of Rhino Editor John Hammer’s defense of his survey on the state bill to revamp Greensboro City Council, I had to see it.
But I have to give Hammer credit. Bill O’Reilly has nothing on him when it comes to defending himself.
The major question hanging out there is one Hammer won’t address: What is the poll methodology, question order, margin of error, etc. It’s information that helps to explain poll results, for one thing. Most reputable news organizations release that information; it’s an issue of transparency. The Rhino refuses to release the information. Hammer won’t explain why. He won’t even defend the criticism of his survey.
But he does go on the attack; let’s take a look at what he wrote yesterday.
“From a journalistic standpoint, in quoting a professor at Elon University – where former Editor of the News & Record John Robinson was in charge of doing the polling – the N&R might not have used the most unbiased source available. To the News & Record’s credit, at least they didn’t quote Robinson on his views of the Rhino Times’ poll.”
First error: I’m not in charge of polling. I am communications director for the poll, which means I handle the poll’s social media accounts and discuss with the poll directors which topics might be relevant to the state’s citizens and get media attention. I don’t create poll questions and have no say over what is or isn’t asked or how it is asked.
Regardless, I’m unclear of the relevancy of my relationship with Elon. I haven’t been with the News & Record for more than three years. I have spoken to the current editor there once, three years ago. The paper has new leadership and new ownership. How does my working there make the Elon Poll biased? Only Hammer knows and he doesn’t explain. He just throws the assertion out there as if it were something.
“A review of News & Record articles citing polls done by Elon University, which the N&R seems to really like, reveals that the N&R provides about the same amount of information about the polling results as the Rhino Times did.”
Second error: Actually all of the Elon polling data is available for review. The Rhino’s poll data isn’t. In addition, the Elon poll directors are available and open to discussing poll results. (I’d even set it up!) Hammer isn’t.
Hammer goes on to show that he either doesn’t understand what legitimate political polls do or it doesn’t fit his chosen narrative so he leaves it out.
“According to a poll done by Elon University and reported in the News & Record, the majority of voters in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage.”
Third error: The poll did not say the majority of voters in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage. It said the majority of people in North Carolina would oppose an amendment to the state Constitution mandating that marriage is only between a man and a woman. As Hammer certainly knows, there is a difference between voters and people. And in the case of the vote on the marriage amendment, well short of 50 percent of the people actually voted.
Besides, polls do not predict outcomes. Polls measure sentiment of respondents at a moment in time. That’s why poll results on the same issues worded exactly the same way get different results from month to month. The poll Hammer refers to was done in March; the election was in May. Those six weeks between March and May was a significant campaign period in which sentiments can and likely did change.
In the end, it’s classic Rhino reporting. When criticized attack, don’t defend. When the facts get in the way, ignore them, or, in this case, report whatever fits.
A serious journalist would immediately correct his errors. Well, in truth, he would have taken a few minutes to check his facts before he published.
The shame of it is that some people will believe his report. Worse, my guess is that some politicians, who certainly know better, will use the numbers to fit their political agenda. It’s the ultimate in cynical politics.