Morning Joe Misreads Poll, Paints Republicans As Pro-Putin Stooges

On Monday’s Morning Joe, excitement was in the air as the panel spent most of the broadcast speculating about and then reporting on the Mueller team’s indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. However, before the specifics of the charges became public, the liberal pundits took the opportunity to go over a recent poll by Axios and SurveyMonkey that evaluated what Americans believe about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In spite of some pushback, Joe Scarborough insisted on interpreting Republicans’ lack of concern about purported Russian ads on Facebook and Twitter as evidence that “75 percent of Republicans” “do not care that the Kremlin tried to rig America's presidential election.”

 

 

The segment began innocently enough as Scarborough started summarizing the results of the poll, but the host quickly went off track:

Well, this isn't a real surprise, but there's a new poll out that says Americans have very little faith in the federal government and tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to stop foreign governments from using social platforms to rig our elections. According to latest Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, 43% of Americans don't trust the tech companies or the federal government to stop foreign influence on social sites. The number increases almost half of Republicans and 51% of Republicans and Independents, 49 % [sic]. Now this comes as Americans are split on whether they find allegations that Russia targeted advertisers as a serious issue. In the poll, 54% of Americans say the allegations of Russia using targeted ads is serious; 42% say it's more of a distraction. When it comes down to a breakdown of party, no big surprise here, 83% of Democrats and 50% of Independents think it is a serious issue. Only 25% of Republicans think that it's a serious issue that Russia tried to rig America's election. I’m gonna say that again. Three out of four Republicans surveyed don't care that Russia tried to rig America's election.

Okay, already we have a real problem. The poll question displayed on screen as Joe spoke read as follows: “Do you think the allegations that Russia used social platforms to deliver targeted advertising represents a serious issue?” In fact, according to the SurveyMonkey spreadsheet of the full results and questions, the actual question was a bit longer: “Several U.S. technology companies, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter have evidence that Russia used their platforms to deliver targeted advertising to American voters. Do you think these allegations represent a serious issue that should be part of an investigation, or are they more of a distraction?”

This question suffers from being quite confusingly worded. At first, it appears to assume that Facebook, Google, and Twitter do indeed have concrete facts to support the notion that Russia targeted American voters with social media ads during the 2016 election. However, in the next sentence, Axios and SurveyMonkey describe the Russian social media ad-targeting as “allegations,” which conversely suggests that Russia’s alleged “interference” has not actually been properly evidenced.

What precisely would it mean then for someone to respond with “no” to this question? An honest journalist might come up with a number of different possibilities:

1) The allegations are false/unproven, so they’re not a serious issue, let alone worthy of investigation.

2) The Russians did target American voters, but a few social media ads from one country can’t have had a serious influence on the election results.

3) The Russians did target American voters, but Russians are allowed to talk to Americans about politics; that’s not illegal interference.

And so on. The amount of interpretations is potentially quite varied and depends heavily on how one reads into the different elements of the question.

So what did Scarborough take from the poll results? Well, as the rest of the panel intermittently chuckled and laughed, he went straight to demonizing Republicans as being pro-Russian turncoats:

Said another way, one in four Republicans do care that Russia and Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin tried to rig our presidential election. Perhaps we could look at it this way: 75% of Republicans -- let me say that again, I will underline it, let it sink in here, hold on a second, let it breathe, let it breathe, let it breathe -- 75% of Republicans in this poll say they do not care that the Kremlin tried to rig America's presidential election. [long dramatic pause]

I kind of wonder what we fought for. [...] we Republicans -- when we were fighting for my entire life, you know, the Cold War, telling some Democrats that thought that Ronald Reagan was, you know, he was a warmonger, and all of the fights in the 1980s, all the debates about getting, you know, standing up to Gorbachev and deploying the cruise missiles into Western Germany, and all of Western Germany and all of Europe exploding. Exploding! But Reagan did that. [...] What was all of that for? So Republicans now, 75% of Republicans now could say: oh, it's okay if Russia tries to rig our elections. [...] I want to say that again -- 75% of Republicans think it's cool that the Kremlin tried to rig America's elections.

No Joe. That’s not what they think. Unless…

Wait, is Joe Scarborough a mind-reader? That would certainly clarify his otherwise inexplicable overconfidence in his interpretation.

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Thankfully, Katty Kay, the Washington anchor for BBC World News America, apparently assumed that Joe is a mere mortal and stepped in to try to correct Scarborough, but the host was not at all receptive to such criticism:

KAY: Okay. The question was not exactly phrased like that. Not to kind of pull [starts laughing].

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] You, okay, you, okay, and, let, let, let me say this also. So you, you get in with your legalistic -- but, look-

KAY: But [garbled]. Okay.

SCARBOROUGH: -I can find you more polls that say a lot of Russians’ [note: he means Americans’] approval of Vladimir Putin have skyrocketed of late.

KAY: Yeah. Like,-

SCARBOROUGH: So go ahead.

KAY: Okay, so you can ask -- so the question was really about how serious did they think it was that they used targeted ads on social media. If you had said “how serious do you think it is that Vladimir Putin tried to rig the American election,” I suspect you may have got a slightly higher number than 24%. No? I mean, come on.

SCARBOROUGH: No. No.

KAY: Give your former colleagues-

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, do me a favor,-

KAY: -some benefit of the doubt.

SCARBOROUGH: -do me a favor, let's get Vladimir Putin's approval ratings, Alex.

KAY: Something like, I think the [sic] 80%, 83%?

SCARBOROUGH: Get somebody to find it in the United States, among Republicans, and how much Putin's approval ratings have skyrocketed, by what percentage, since Donald Trump became President of the United States. And then we'll see how much people really care about what's in the best interest of the United States of America and what's in the best interest of their political clan.

So instead of taking heed of Kay making the eminently reasonable suggestion that perhaps Republicans simply don’t think that Facebook and Twitter ads could have swayed the presidential election, Scarborough preferred to interrupt Kay and cast Republicans as partisan and unpatriotic.

Morning Joe then shifted gears slightly and began to collectively hyperventilate over Putin’s government being supposedly responsible for every major political upheaval in Europe and America over the past two to three years. In a strange bout of evidenceless conspiracy-theorizing, the panel ended up spotting Russian tentacles everywhere from the Brexit referendum to Catalonia’s current left-wing secessionist upheaval:

CLINT WATTS [FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, FELLOW]: Greatest victory in information warfare in the history of the world was what the Russian regime has done over the last two to three years, not just in the United States: Brexit, France, Germany, Putin's,-

KAY: [interjecting] Catalonia. Even [inaudible] in Catalonia.

WATTS: -yeah, Catalonia, Scotland is now up there. They're doing it in the Middle East as we are moving back from the world stage, the Russians are moving in. They are having their way with the world right now.

KAY: [interjecting] Way cheaper than an arms race. Way cheaper.

WATTS: Yeah, Putin’s greatest victory is he has unified an audience in Western democracies, Germany, France, Canada, the U.K., the United States, that now not only support his belief system, but support his foreign policies.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, and this comes, of course, this comes at Republicans suddenly feeling warm and fuzzy about Vladimir Putin, Harold, after they invaded Crimea, after they invaded eastern Ukraine, after they shot down, forces attached to them, shot down a passenger airliner.

(...)

FORD: I don’t think Democrat or Republican alike would say: oh yes, we want the Russians being involved in our election.

SCARBOROUGH: No, it’s [imitating what Republicans say]: we don’t -- it's not a big deal.

(...)

KAY: But why [inaudible] is so polarized and why is it impossible ever to bring [Republicans and Democrats] back together?

FORD: Yeah, but what is -- I don't understand what has changed. To -- you listed all these things, Joe, that Russia has done over the last few years to upset the global balance in their favor and against us. I don't care what your party background. It seems irrelevant. How could anyone not find this -- and maybe the question ought to be asked differently -- but you see more of this, not as many people as I thought in the Republican Party would find this problematic as-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Because the Republican Party has turned itself over to someone who is creating a personality cult. I mean, I was conservative way back when being conservative meant you were conservative. Ha! That changed. I mean, now you have radicals.

FORD: But I don't know of any Republican in Washington, in Congress, the Senate, any serious thinker on foreign policy in the Republican Party, who agrees with the President. So you still have 75% of -- something’s happened. I just don't know what it is.

[murmurs of agreement]

FORD: I mean, I don't think any of us know, but it's just a -- it’s numbing to say the least.

What is really numbing is Scarborough’s complete lack of objectivity to the point that he refuses to give basic charity to people he disagrees with and prefers to take their words in the worst possible way as long as it lets him cast Trump or his supporters as evil.

By the way, Joe did come back on in the next segment with the numbers that he wanted about how many Republicans approve of Putin:

SCARBOROUGH: Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying popularity among Republicans according to a new poll by Pew Research. This is back in 2016. And his approval rating, though most Americans view Russia regu-, uh, negatively, uh, is -- it jumped up, it jumped up from 17% to 34% among Republicans. So, it's doubled.

KAY: During the course of 2016, that's a lot.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, during the course of 2016. That's, that’s something.

Viewing the glass half-full though, this also means that roughly two-thirds of Republicans don’t like or approve of Putin. In spite of Scarborough’s attempts to play this up as some significant piece of evidence implicating Republicans as some pro-Russian fifth column, it actually suggests that at least 40% of Republicans do not like Putin but are also not having a conniption fit over Facebook/Twitter ads, thus belying the entire premise of Joe’s argument.

Scarborough really needs to listen to himself more closely when he makes up talking points on the spot.

A full transcript of the segment plus a mini-transcript of the beginning of the following segment can be found below:

7:38 AM EST

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well, this isn't a real surprise, but there's a new poll out that says Americans have very little faith in the federal government and tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to stop foreign governments from using social platforms to rig our elections. According to latest Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, 43% of Americans don't trust the tech companies or the federal government to stop foreign influence on social sites. The number increases almost half of Republicans and 51% of Republicans and Independents, 49 % [sic]. Now this comes as Americans are split on whether they find allegations that Russia targeted advertisers as a serious issue. In the poll, 54% of Americans say the allegations of Russia using targeted ads is serious; 42% say it's more of a distraction. When it comes down to a breakdown of party, no big surprise here, 83% of Democrats and 50% of Independents think it is a serious issue. Only 25% of Republicans think that it's a serious issue that Russia tried to rig America's election. I’m gonna say that again. Three out of four Republicans surveyed don't care that Russia tried to rig America's election.

[repeated laughing/chuckling from panel as Joe continues to talk]

SCARBOROUGH: Said another way, one in four Republicans do care that Russia and Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin tried to rig our presidential election. Perhaps we could look at it this way: 75% of Republicans -- let me say that again, I will underline it, let it sink in here, hold on a second, let it breathe, let it breathe, let it breathe -- 75% of Republicans in this poll say they do not care that the Kremlin tried to rig America's presidential election. [long dramatic pause] Okay. You know, I just -- I kind of wonder what we fought for. Like, wait, what we Republicans -- when we were fighting for my entire life, you know, the Cold War, telling some Democrats that thought that Ronald Reagan was, you know, he was a warmonger, and all of the fights in the 1980s, all the debates about getting, you know, standing up to Gorbachev and deploying the cruise missiles into Western Germany, and all of Western Germany and all of Europe exploding. Exploding! But Reagan did that. I mean, at Reykjavik, what Ronald Reagan did at Reykjavik, refusing to give up SDI, and ultimately Gorbachev having to back down. What was all of that for? So Republicans now, 75% of Republicans now could say: oh, it's okay if Russia tries to rig our elections. Seven- -- I want to say that again -- 75% of Republicans think it's cool that the Kremlin tried to rig America's elections.

KATTY KAY [BBC WORLD NEWS, ANCHOR]: Okay. The question was not exactly phrased like that. Not to kind of pull [starts laughing].

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] You, okay, you, okay, and, let, let, let me say this also. So you, you get in with your legalistic -- but, look-

KAY: But [garbled]. Okay.

SCARBOROUGH: -I can find you more polls that say a lot of Russians’ approval of Vladimir Putin have skyrocketed of late.

KAY: Yeah. Like,-

SCARBOROUGH: So go ahead.

KAY: Okay, so you can ask -- so the question was really about how serious did they think it was that they used targeted ads on social media. If you had said “how serious do you think it is that Vladimir Putin tried to rig the American election,” I suspect you may have got a slightly higher number than 24%. No? I mean, come on.

SCARBOROUGH: No. No.

KAY: Give your former colleagues-

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, do me a favor,-

KAY: -some benefit of the doubt.

SCARBOROUGH: -do me a favor, let's get Vladimir Putin's approval ratings, Alex.

KAY: Something like, I think the [sic] 80%, 83%?

SCARBOROUGH: Get somebody to find it in the United States, among Republicans, and how much Putin's approval ratings have skyrocketed, by what percentage, since Donald Trump became President of the United States. And then we'll see how much people really care about what's in the best interest of the United States of America and what's in the best interest of their political clan.

CLINT WATTS [FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, FELLOW]: Greatest victory in information warfare in the history of the world was what the Russian regime has done over the last two to three years, not just in the United States: Brexit, France, Germany, Putin's,-

KAY: [interjecting] Catalonia. Even [inaudible] in Catalonia.

WATTS: -yeah, Catalonia, Scotland is now up there. They're doing it in the Middle East as we are moving back from the world stage, the Russians are moving in. They are having their way with the world right now.

KAY: [interjecting] Way cheaper than an arms race. Way cheaper.

WATTS: Yeah, Putin’s greatest victory is he has unified an audience in Western democracies, Germany, France, Canada, the U.K., the United States, that now not only support his belief system, but support his foreign policies.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, and this comes, of course, this comes at Republicans suddenly feeling warm and fuzzy about Vladimir Putin, Harold, after they invaded Crimea, after they invaded eastern Ukraine, after they shot down, forces attached to them, shot down a passenger airliner. I mean, it's not like, it's not like there have been positive developments in the past two or three years that make Republicans decide they have this warm and fuzzy feeling about Vladimir Putin suddenly.

HAROLD FORD JR.: It reminds us why the President is so serious about riling up his base when you see numbers like this, whatever the question may be about. It's Russia, they may have been involved, how do you feel -- if three quarters of Republicans say it was just a distraction, I think that is revealing on a level. I doubt they thought it was cool, but at the same time I know where-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] No, they think it’s cool -- they're cool with it.

FORD: They're cool with it as opposed to-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] They're cool, they’re cool it ‘cause they know that Russia bought Facebook ads and targeted, they're cool with it.

FORD: But what has changed? Because I would imagine that you would find Democrat and Republican alike ten years ago, fifteen years ago, would have found this objectionable at the very least. Something has changed, and I don’t, I don’t know-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] It switches party to party.

FORD: Well, no, no, no, but, but,-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] I mean -- it just -- I mean -- it’s like-

FORD: -I don't think, I don’t think -- I’m real -- I don’t think Democrat or Republican alike would say: oh yes, we want the Russians being involved in our election.

SCARBOROUGH: No, it’s: we don’t -- it's not a big deal.

FORD: Right, or it’s not a big deal.

[Joe and Harold talk over each other, Katty starts talking under them]

SCARBOROUGH: It’s a James Carville [inaudible]

FORD: What has changed?

KAY: But why [inaudible] is so polarized and why is it impossible ever to bring them back together?

FORD: Yeah, but what is -- I don't understand what has changed. To -- you listed all these things, Joe, that Russia has done over the last few years to upset the global balance in their favor and against us. I don't care what your party background. It seems irrelevant. How could anyone not find this -- and maybe the question ought to be asked differently -- but you see more of this, not as many people as I thought in the Republican Party would find this problematic as-

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Because the Republican Party has turned itself over to someone who is creating a personality cult. I mean, I was conservative way back when being conservative meant you were conservative. Ha! That changed. I mean, now you have radicals.

FORD: But I don't know of any Republican in Washington, in Congress, the Senate, any serious thinker on foreign policy in the Republican Party, who agrees with the President. So you still have 75% of -- something’s happened. I just don't know what it is.

[murmurs of agreement]

FORD: I mean, I don't think any of us know, but it's just a -- it’s numbing to say the least.

SCARBOROUGH: Something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mrs. Jones? Um, alright. When we return, I’m gonna have the answer to that poll, the rising popularity of Vladimir Putin among Republicans when Morning Joe comes back.

(...)

7:50 AM

SCARBOROUGH: Alright, so Katty, I got your answer here.

KAY: Good.

SCARBOROUGH: So, so, um-

KAY: I need to know the question too though.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh my god. Seriously? Seriously? So, uh, this is just -- Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying popularity among Republicans according to a new poll by Pew Research. This is back in 2016. And his approval rating, though most Americans view Russia regu-, uh, negatively, uh, is -- it jumped up, it jumped up from 17% to 34% among Republicans. So, it's doubled.

KAY: During the course of 2016, that's a lot.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, during the course of 2016. That's, that’s something.

(...)   


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