October 7, 2005

A Tale of Two Stories

Hatched by Dafydd

I have clenched in my reptillian jaws a pair of stories. Both about Iraq; both about the prospects for the constitutional referrendum on October 15th. Both MSM: one is Reuters, the other Associated Press.

Night. And. Day.

(A tip of the hat to Pajamahideen, in the comments of Harry Reid's Babysitting Service, for calling the Reuters story to my attention.)

Here is the Reuters story:

Pollster says weary Iraqis back constitution
04 Oct 2005
By Andrew Quinn

BAGHDAD, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Iraqis are exhausted by the country's descent into chaos and most pin their hopes on a new constitution as a first step toward order, the director of one of Iraq's few opinion polling agencies said on Tuesday.

Mehdi Hafedh of the Iraqi Centre for Development and International Dialogue said his latest poll showed support for the draft constitution going into a vote on Oct. 15 was widespread -- even in areas where Sunni Arab groups fighting a bloody campaign to derail the new charter are strong.

Hafedh believes the constitution will be approved. But he's not speaking from a gut feeling or wishful fantasy; unlike anybody else I have read, he actually polled Iraqis on the question.

Hafedh's poll of 3,625 Iraqis between Sept 14-19 showed 79 percent in favour of the new constitution against eight percent opposed. The remainder did not answer the question.

While support was particularly high in the northern Kurdish areas and southern regions dominated by Shi'ites, Hafedh said it also ran at over 50 percent in central provinces known as the heartland of Sunni Arab unrest -- a sign, he said, that the Sunni-Shi'ite split was not as wide as many fear.

"This is exaggerated by political elites who are seeking power and by Western media and analysts," Hafedh said.

"If you go down to the streets, you can't tell who is Sunni and who is Shi'ite. We are all mixed." [emphasis added]

Nobody imagines that the constitution will pull less than 50% of the voters, not even the Sunni "political elites" who are frantically rounding up Sunnis to vote against it. The constitution will only be derailed if any three of the eighteen provinces of Iraq vote against it by a two-to-one majority (more than 66%).

There are four provinces that are majority Sunni; but from what I have read, only three where the Sunnis are so overwhelming a majority that a two-thirds No vote is plausible. Even those provinces, however, are not 100% Sunni. If even 10% of the population are Shiite, and if the Shiite there vote at least as strongly for the constitution as their brethren elsewhere (which would be at least 86%, if Hafedh's poll is accurate among the Shia), the Sunni in that province would need about a 73% No vote to get the overall two-thirds to count for a "rejection" province.

But Hafegh's poll indicated there was "over50 percent" even in those provinces. So the only way the constitution can be rejected is if the poll is stunningly in error -- or if there is a huge turn-around in the next week.

It's not a done deal by any means; but there is great cause for optimism.

(I do actually have a dog in the fight; in a recent post here, I made a prediction:

Dafydd the Great, wearing turbin and holding back of hand to forehead, predicts that no more than one province will muster the necessary 67% rejection. (Actually, I believe none will; but I'm hedging my prediction slightly.)

We'll see if this one works out, or if blows up like my Judiciary-Committee prediction!)

But wait; what about the other story?

This one is so boilerplate, it could have been phoned in from the New York offices of AP:

Many Sunnis to Vote No in Iraq Referendum
Oct 7, 2005
by Thomas Wagner

BAGHDAD (AP) - Like many Sunni Arabs in Iraq, Faleh Hassan opposed the U.S.-led invasion, boycotted the election that brought the interim government to power and plans to vote "no" in the Oct. 15 referendum on the country's draft constitution.

As far as he's concerned, ever since U.S. forces drove Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni, from power, Iraq's Kurds and majority Shiites have used democracy to grab an unfair share of power and to penalize the Sunni minority for the many abuses Shiites suffered under Saddam. [emphasis added]

Several things to note: first, there is no quantification; this story is pure "feelings" and no thought: clearly, we are supposed to draw the conclusion that the constitution is going down in flames... despite the fact that nowhere does Wagner explicitly quantify how many Sunnis are likely to vote against it in the Sunni provinces -- which is, of course, the only relevant question in deciding whether it will be adopted.

Second, note the extraordinary number of sources of information Wagner drew from for his literary endeavor: four, counting himself! Much of the story is Wagner's personal recollection of the last Saddam Hussein "referendum," when Hussein was the only candidate on the ballot, and with the Fedayeen Saddam looking over the ballots before they were put into the box. From that wealth of data, we learn that:

Iraq's Sunni Arabs are mobilizing in large numbers to defeat the referendum. Many Sunni politicians believe the document would give Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in the south virtual autonomy, control of Iraq's oil wealth in both regions, and leave Sunnis powerless and poor in central and western Iraq.

And one other point is glossed over. Wagner casually admits that in the past, he was willing to report pro-Saddam "news" under duress:

To show off this "democratic reform" to the world, [Saddam Hussein] opened Iraq to hundreds of foreign journalists, including this reporter.

All of us were assigned "a government minder" to monitor the few interviews we won with the frightened general public and to make sure we didn't try to visit any of the many off-limit palaces that Saddam and his family owned.

So for "weeks" in 1995, Thomas Wagner filed stories from Iraq while he was being carefully controlled by Saddam's "government minder[s]." I wonder: during all that time, or even in the eight years between that sham election and the fall of Saddam, did Wagner ever once reveal to his readers that those stories he filed were actually orchestrated by Saddam Hussein to make a democratic silk purse out of the pig's ear of Saddam's tyranny?

I don't find very much charity in my heart for Thomas Wagner. Nor do I feel any great impluse towards believing him now.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 7, 2005, at the time of 4:06 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Hyde

Not only is the AP story pure feelings, but it's essentially the OPINION of a single individual, presented as though it can be extrapolated to an entire population, and presented as "news".

So much for the "profession" of "reporting". We've entered the world where everything is editorial.

I need to go back and re-read 1984 to better orient myself to the world we're in.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Hyde [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 6:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Mr. Hyde,

When were you last in Iraq? Cite some different polls with different results if there are some.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 8:45 AM

The following hissed in response by: streeter


The arguement I heard made by a "democratic strategist" on Fox this morning was priceless.
We are fighting terrorists in Iraq only, you know, because we are there. All these guys are coming to Iraq to fight Americans. Instead, we should be focused on fighting them around the world, you know, finding them where they are.

The above hissed in response by: streeter [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 9:42 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Hyde


I'm not sure what you mean. No, I have not been to Iraq. That's part of the problem. I would like reporting that gives me an accurate picture of what's going on, and I'm not getting it.

My point is that whether the Iraqis support or do not support the proposed constitution, I'd like some hard data on it. The first example cited provided polling numbers, where the second was simply anecdotal information from one or two people. My complaint was with the second one, which based its tone and message on a statistically insigificant sample.

My complaint is that most of the mainstream media seems determined to paint the situation in the worst light possible to fit a predetermined narrative. If a report on the liklihood of approval of the new constitution is the matter at hand, something with more data would be appreciated.

I'd like to see some bona fide opinion polling that tells me - one way or the other - which way the wind is blowing over there.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Hyde [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 1:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Re: Mr. Hyde at October 7, 2005 01:19 PM

Well, we'll know soon enough. I think the constitution referendum will pass, and the following election will get about the same mixed results as the last election. But it'll work.

They want their new government, so they can start benefiting from all that oil money. They're watching the barrel prices too. We want a new government just as badly as they do, so we can draw down troops and get by with not much more than some air support when they need it.

They start making money, and we stop getting sent home in flag-covered boxes every week. Everybody comes out ahead, except Zarqawi.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 4:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: Roger

I made the same prediction in a comment a few days ago, so I hope you're right, oh wise one.

The above hissed in response by: Roger [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 8, 2005 5:49 PM

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