Thursday, August 19, 2010


As you probably know, a new Pew poll tells us that increasing numbers of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim. Now, you might think this has something to do with the Cordoba House controversy (or, rather, with the right-wing noise machine's ginned-up hysteria surrounding the project) -- but the Pew write-up of the poll assures us that that doesn't appear to be the case:

The survey was completed in early August, before Obama's recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

On NPR this morning, Linda Wertheimer went further:

The survey was taken before the argument you just heard Don Gonyea discussing heated up, between July 21st and August 5th.

(Wertheimer's story followed Don Gonyea's story about the Cordoba House controversy.)

The problem is, July 21-August 5 wasn't "before the argument ... heated up" -- at least it wasn't for the regular consumers of Fox News and other wingnut media.

Go look at Salon's timeline of the ginned-up controversy, and note that the controversy began crossing over from the Pam Geller-o-sphere to the big leagues on May 10, in this New York Post column by Andrea Peyser. This was followed by another Peyser column three days later. Geller appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show that day to talk about the project. Three days after that there was this angry Washington Examiner column. Hannity featured the controversy five times on his Fox News cable show in May, June, and early and mid-July (and three more times during Pew's survey period).

Sarah Palin's notorious "refudiate" tweet about the project was posted on July 18, before the Pew surveying began. Newt Gingrich's denunciation of the project was posted on July 21 -- the first day of Pew's questioning.

Most of the rest of us weren't paying attention, but Wingnut World was already "heating up" about the project before Pew's survey began. I have no doubt that that had an impact on Pew's poll.

Bonus quote from Pew's write-up:

When asked how they learned about Obama's religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media. Among specific media sources, television (at 16%) is mentioned most frequently.

Remember, you don't have to say "Obama is a Muslim" to persuade the credulous that he is, any more than President Bush had to say "Saddam planned 9/11" to convey that impression. You just have to link the two in what you say, and do so repeatedly.


The bigger problem is that there's an enthusiasm gap in American politics that isn't limited to the subject of voting in November. Right-wingers are just generally more engaged in politics --and what engages them is Fox-style scare-mongering.

For more evidence of this, look at a result from a new Gallup poll on Cordoba House (click to enlarge):

Among Democrats and independents, nearly half "don't know enough to say" what they think about the president's remarks on the project. Nearly three quarters of Republicans, by contrast, know exactly what they think.

To some extent, that's because they know what they think about everything Obama says and does -- they're against it. But it also suggests that they're simply paying more attention.

Fox and talk radio have made politics fun for the right. That's a big reason why Fox/talk radio phony scandals can drive the news cycle and put fear into the hearts of elected Democrats. Most of the rest of us simply aren't as engaged. And that's why we can't stoke controversies right back.

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