Facts and Data Be Damned

February 3, 2010 6:08 a.m.

I was pulling my hair out this morning reading this Washington Post piece. Titled “Despite his roots, Obama struggles to show he’s connected to middle class,” it’s one of those classics of Washington political journalism where the thesis is unsupported by any hard evidence and where the anecdotal evidence is embarrassingly off-point, irrelevant, or insubstantial — or, in this case, all three.

But in this case, it’s even worse. The Washington Post‘s own polling data don’t just undermine the premise of the piece; they refute it.The article begins and ends with the usual trope, setting the scene of a President sealed off by the perks of office from the suffering of everyday Americans, but it goes farther than that and asserts that Obama himself is especially disconnected:

It is a tough sell for any president who lives inside what Obama refers to as “the bubble,” but tougher still for Obama. His first year in office was defined in part by a paradox. He is a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it.

Then, amidst the cliched Obama anecdotes about arugula and bowling, we get the only hard evidence to support this thesis:

As he arrived in Nashua, nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that his economic policies had hurt the country or made no difference at all; almost half thought he did not understand their problems.

Almost half? Does that mean more than half thought he did understand their problems? Why, yes. Yes, it does. As Greg Sargent points out, the Post‘s own polling in mid-January shows that 57% of those surveyed agreed that “He understands the problems of people like you.” Notably, that number has been above 50 percent for Obama’s entire first year in office, including periods above 70 percent last year.

The Post‘s own polling also asks if Obama “shares your values.” That number, too, has remained above 50%, most recently coming in at 55% in mid-January.

At this point, the article falls apart under the weight of its own misinterpreted data and well-worn anecdotes, but there’s still room to squeeze in one more bit of Washington conventional wisdom, a homily to that plain-spoken man of the people, George W. Bush:

Those shortcomings were evident last month when Obama invited the previous two presidents to join him at the White House for a news conference about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. George W. Bush was simple and frank: “Just send us your cash,” he said. … In the two weeks since, Obama appears to have learned from his predecessors’ trademark strengths.

It’s a story that practically writes itself.

Late Update: After reading this post, TPM Reader PH asked the Post about this story in one of its online chats with staff writer Scott Wilson (who did not pen the original article):

Prescott, Ariz: Today the Post ran an article titled “Despite his roots, Obama struggles to show he’s connected to middle class.” The Post’s own polling shows that 57% of people think the president “understands people like you”. …

Why do we get articles like this that are refuted by your own research?

Scott Wilson: Are those 57 percent self-identified as “middle class?” A lot of Americans think he understands Wall Street better than he understands them.

Setting aside the gratuitous assertion about Wall Street, Wilson would have us believe that the 57 percent are not middle class, but that the “almost half” cited in the original article, the other 42 percent, are all middle class.

Enough to make your head spin.

The TPM Journalism Fund: A New Way To Support TPM
We're launching the TPM Journalism Fund as an additional way for readers and members to support TPM. Every dollar contributed goes toward:
  • -Hiring More Journalists
  • -Providing free memberships to those who cannot afford them
  • -Supporting independent, non-corporate journalism
Are you experiencing financial hardship?
Apply for a free community-supported membership
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: