Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect takes the New York Times to task for its coverage of progressive candidates.

ON TAP Today from the American Prospect

DECEMBER 23, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

The Times Brands Sanders and Warren as Far LeftThe sheer ideological bias of the mainstream press continues to astound. Today’s offender is a piece in The New York Times (page B2 of the Monday print edition) with the headline “Democrats Are Cautious About Ideas on the Far Left.”


The Times’ examples are Medicare for All and free public higher education. Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought “far left” referred to such ideas as nationalizing the means of production. You know: Lenin, Fidel, Chairman Mao.


Free public higher education is about as far left as Lincoln’s land grant colleges. For more than a century, it was the norm in America.


The Times bases its conclusion on a survey which shows that 30.5 percent of Democratic respondents want public colleges to be free to everyone and another 31.6 percent want them free to all but the wealthy. So, depending on how you read the poll, you might conclude that 62.1 percent of Democrats want public colleges to be free for the vast majority of people. Does that make most Democrats far left?


Turning to Medicare for All, the Times survey finds that 58.4 percent of respondents want Medicare to be available to all, with the option of keeping private insurance, while only 24.7 percent want everyone on a “single government plan.” (Actually, Medicare comes in many flavors, but never mind.)


Yet the same poll asks respondents which candidate they most trust on health care, and … wait for it … 35.8 percent pick Bernie Sanders and another 33.2 percent pick Elizabeth Warren. In other words, 69 percent prefer Sanders or Warren on health care, and of course both favor Medicare for All.


So, by the Times’ definition, 69 percent of Democrats are evidently “far left.” What gives? Could it be that respondents have inconsistent, context-dependent preferences, depending on how the question is asked?


Well, yes, as any competent pollster can tell you. That’s just Political Science 101. The Times betrays three bad habits: overwriting headlines and stories, misunderstanding the dark arts of polling, and a not-so-subtle bias favoring the political center. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER


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Robert Kuttner’s new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.



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