Howard Fineman of Newsweek on Imus this morning made a passing reference “the majority of the American people now believe the war in Iraq was a horrible mistake.” The gratuitous insertion of the word “horrible” may seem like a small thing. It is not. Even if Fineman were a partisan operative (theoretically he’s not), it would be objectionable to be moving from spin to untruth. As he is a professional newsman, hired to be an objective source, it is even more blatantly untrue.
Early polls indicated support for the liberation of Iraq. No one at the time claimed that such polls revealed that the majority of the American people believed the war to be a “brilliant” idea. Such an overinterpretation would have been picked up immediately and roundly denounced. When the shoe is on the other foot, fewer people notice. A slight majority of the American people now believe that the war was a mistake. Presumably at least two or three of them believe that it has been on balance not worth it, while still acknowledging some benefit.
It is unlikely that Fineman or any other MSM figure decides to deliberately insert words like “horrible” in order to make the administration look bad, or still less to weaken our ability to make war. More likely, he thinks it has been a horrible mistake and spends his time with people who think it’s a horrible mistake. When polls show that sentiment is now more against the war than in favor, he leaps to the conclusion “Ah, most people agree with us now,” and feels comfortable speaking for people even as he reports on them. He doesn’t hear it for what it is.
Of the several million listeners to the show, some had their belief that it was a “horrible” mistake reinforced, acquiring one more tiny bit of reassurance that “we were right all along…everyone is starting to see it.” Those whose views were less strong have been told that what most people believe is even more strongly negative. In any single instance, the effect is likely small, even on a show as influential as Don Imus’s. But as one of a thousand statements made weekly, year in, year out, and repeated by listeners to their friends and neighbors, it is powerful. If the truth is green and the MSM repeatedly says it’s blue, some folks will gradually see it as seagreen, some as aqua, and some as teal – and that’s not even counting those people of low confidence who will immediately say “I meant blue.”