NYT Carries Weiner's Water
In a last-ditch attempt to prevent Michael Bloomberg from waltzing into another term on a cloud of money, the New York Times let rival Anthony Weiner plant a limp "push-polling" accusation on today's front page.
Push polls are basically negative ads disguised as telephone surveys—a campaign blasts out thousands of phone calls that appear to solicit information from voters but are really intended to plant negative stories in the electorate ("On a scale of 1 to 10, how would your opinion change if you knew that candidate A was a muslim pig-fucker?"). They are distinct from legitimate polls in that they are massive in scale (why call a small but representative sample when the aim is to get attacks out there?), short in duration (as opposed to an earnest survey, which can last several minutes), and almost exclusively used in the last moments of a campaign, when such attacks can do the most damage.
Today's Times accuses Bloomberg of launching a "push-poll" against Weiner that apparently meets none of those criteria.
The questions began benignly enough: Are you registered to vote? Do you plan to vote in the mayoral election? But then they shifted to Mr. Weiner, asking whether the person's views of Mr. Weiner would be altered if he or she knew of certain problems involving Mr. Weiner, from missing votes in Congress to having difficulty keeping staff to accepting campaign donations from foreign fashion models.
As Peter Feld, a Democratic strategist and Gawker's election expert, points out, it's fairly obvious that the survey in question (or 'survey,' as the Times scare-quotes it in the headline), was designed to test the effectiveness of potential lines of attack against Weiner. The point wasn't to disseminate negative messages under the guise of a poll, but to find out which negative messages will be most damaging when disseminated via an ad blitz in a couple months when the campaign heats up. The former is a no-no, the latter is run-of-the-mill political hackery.
The Times clearly understands that there's a difference between push-polling and message-testing, so after the Weiner campaign handed the paper the story ("Mr. Weiner's camp alerted the New York Times about the calls") and told its reporter whom to call ("several individuals who received the phone calls contacted Mr. Weiner's aides, who provided their names and numbers to the Times"), it consulted an experienced political operative to gauge just how kosher this particular 'survey' was:
The questions also grabbed the attention of a 54-year-old registered Democrat who said he was sitting at home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one Saturday working on his computer when he received the call.
The man, a member of a city union who asked not to be identified because he did not want to create problems for himself at work, said he was familiar with the concept of push-polling and considered the call to be a form of it.
That settles it!
We fully sympathize with the efforts of the Times to prevent Bloomberg from setting himself up as a Napoleanic mayor-for-life, but half-assed, transparent, and weak hits like this one only hurt the cause, comrades.