Monday, October 18, 2004

A Job for Context Man

Reader John Magner pens this note to the Globe Ombudsman, Christine Chinlund:

Doggone, it must have been fun to be a journalist before the World Wide Web came along. In her story headlined "An unexpected battle in mountains for Bush", Susan Milligan builds a 1300-word piece around "A recent Gallup poll suggest[ing] the two men [President Bush and Senator Kerry] are running dead even in" Colorado.

Pre-Web, doltish news consumers like me may have gasped and spilled our coffee at this thunderbolt. Today, we simply surf over to RealClearPolitics.com, hit that site's "Battleground States" page, and look for ourselves. The Rocky Mountain News has Bush up 5; Survey USA has Bush up 8; Mason-Dixon has Bush up 9. Here's the kicker: all three of those polls are more recent than the Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll to which Milligan refers.

But wait, you reply. There's another major argument in this story: Merely by being forced to campaign in Colorado, Bush is suffering to some degree.

Fair enough! Bush is indeed spending money and, more importantly, time in a red state. This is a job for Context Man. The question, of course, is: What about Kerry? Is he being forced to play defense in any blue states? Hmm, the article does not say. Pre-Web, we doltish consumers might have assumed that the crack editors at the Globe didn't include this information because there was none of any significance. We would simply have thrilled at that massive Kerry momentum-train.

Today, a few clicks take us to this map, which shows that last week alone, the Kerry campaign visited a passel of states that voted Gore in 2000, including Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and even blue strongholds New Jersey, Maryland and Oregon.

In the age of the World Wide Web, a cynic – a cynic, mind you, not doltish news consumers like me! – might be forced to assume Milligan cherry-picked a single poll that allowed her to paint a picture that is not entirely accurate.

John Magner
Hudson, MA

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