Though It Matches Number It Touted Friday, NBC Leads with Low Bush Approval

Without their own poll with which to batter President Bush, last Friday the NBC Nightly News led with how “the latest Associated Press poll has the President's job approval at 37 percent” as anchor Brian Williams pointed how “that matches President Clinton at the lowest point in his presidency.” (NewsBusters item with details.) But NBC caught up Wednesday night with the other networks, and though its new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found the exact same 37 percent presidential approval rating -- so no fresh news -- Williams nonetheless led with the poll number. Bringing aboard Tim Russert, Williams prompted him: “Tim, let's start with that all-important benchmark for Presidents, the approval rating." Russert outlined: "It is not good news for President Bush, Brian. Approve: 37 percent. Disapprove of his job: 58 percent. And look at this Brian, 'direction of the country.' Only one in four [26 percent] Americans say the country is in the right direction; wrong track, 62 percent.”

Russert proceeded to highlight how “Democrats will take great joy in” the finding that 50 percent want Democrats to control Congress, “a 13 point bulge” over the 37 percent who prefer Republicans. “Analysts, of both political parties,” Russert stressed, “say with that kind of number if the election was held today they [Democrats] could re-capture the House and Senate.” But, Russert noted, “inside the poll, voters still say they prefer Republicans to manage the war in Iraq and to deal with homeland security.” (Transcript follows.)

Speaking of “inside the poll,” unlike with the ABC News/Washington Post poll or the CBS News/New York Times survey (or CBS News alone), which post detailed results for most of the questions posed, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal only post results of a very limited set of questions. MSNBC.com has this story with a few results and the Wall Street Journal posted this short PDF (it skips from question 8 to 27) on its free Web site. So, I have no idea if the poll-takers discovered any findings which did not match NBC's agenda and thus were ignored by NBC Nightly News, as well as MSNBC's Hardball and Countdown, such as the type of findings ABC and CBS have bypassed in recent weeks [See UPDATE below. Indeed, NBC's newscasts also ignored findings which found public support for Bush policies which the media have derided]:

# A March 6 NewsBusters item about a ABC News/Washington Post poll, which pegged Bush's approval at 41 percent, recounted how ABC's World News Tonight (and Good Morning America the next day, see this MRC CyberAlert item) and the Washington Post skipped that when asked about how after 9/11 the “FBI was given additional authority in areas like surveillance, wiretaps and obtaining records in terrorism investigations,” 62 percent said they favor the power and as for the National Security Agency “secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so,” 54 percent consider it “acceptable.”

# A February 27 NewsBusters posting, about the CBS Evening News leading with Bush's approval at an “all-time low” of 34 percent, pointed out: CBS managed to skip over several numbers which demonstrated the disconnect between the public and the national press corps. On “media coverage of Cheney hunting accident,” for instance, the public overwhelmingly rejected -- by three-to-one -- the media's obsession: 66 percent said the media devoted “too much time” compared to a piddling 22 percent who thought the press allocated the “right amount of time.” Another nine percent, most likely a lot of journalists and the “angry left,” believed it got “too little time.” Also, by 51 to 47 percent, most “approve of Bush authorizing wiretaps to fight terrorism.”

[UPDATE, 11:50am EST March 16: Since Wednesday night, the Wall Street Journal has updated its PDF of poll results to list several more question topics. Three show public support for Bush policies for which the media have shown disdain:

-- 52 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” support “using wiretaps to listen to telephone calls between suspected terrorists in other countries and American citizens in the United States without getting a court order to do so,” compared to 46 percent or “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose.”

-- 75 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” support “promoting the USA Patriot Act, which gives the government greater ability to spy on and prosecute suspected terrorists.”

-- 56 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” support “making the tax cuts of the past few years permanent.”]

A transcript of how Brian Williams led the March 15 NBC Nightly News:

“Good evening. In a few moments here we'll debut some new polling numbers tonight here on this broadcast. It is the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That means it's the latest snapshot of opinion across this country and it is bad news for the Bush White House. While reports are swirling around Washington tonight that the White House may make some staff changes after a long and tough five years in office. Tonight, it is very clear that Americans harbor some deep concerns about the directions of things, including the war in Iraq. From our Washington bureau tonight we're joined by the bureau chief, moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert. And Tim, let's start with that all-important benchmark for Presidents, the approval rating.”

Tim Russert, on split screen, and poll numbers displayed on screen: “It is not good news for President Bush, Brian. Approve: 37 percent. Disapprove of his job: 58 percent. And look at this Brian, 'direction of the country.' Only one in four [26 percent] Americans say the country is in the right direction; wrong track, 62 percent. And are these problems that confront President Bush short term or long-term? 58 percent say these are difficulties that are going to bother this President for a long time [short-term: 26 percent].”

Williams: “And Tim, from the numbers, what are respondents saying that has them so upset?”

Russert: “In one word, Iraq. And here it is Brian, very clear. 'Successful conclusion in Iraq,' 32 percent of people are now 'more confident' that will happen, 57 percent 'less confident.' That's a seven percent drop in just three months. When we ask people about troop levels in Iraq, 31 percent say maintain current troop levels, 61 percent of Americans now say reduce the number of American troops in Iraq.”

Williams: “And Tim, what is in all of this for members of Congress?”

Russert: “Well the Democrats will take great joy in this, Brian. We asked them who should control Congress, and here is the result: 37 percent say Republicans, 50 percent say Democrats -- a 13 point bulge for the Democrats. Very good news. Analysts, of both political parties, say with that kind of number if the election was held today they could re-capture the House and Senate. But inside the poll, voters still say they prefer Republicans to manage the war in Iraq and to deal with homeland security, they opt for the Democrats on social and domestic issues. So the Democrats still have more work to do and the election is still quite a ways away.”

Williams: “And finally, Tim, considering the fact this President is still operating with largely the same senior staff he has had since day one, and it's been a long five years, what to make of these reports tonight of an impending White House staff shake up of some sort?”

Russert: “It was buzzing throughout the White House. It was asked at the press briefing today, Brian, through all of Washington, the talk is what changes and when are they coming. One White House aide said what fueled all of this is when Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota said the White House had a tin ear politically and needed to make some changes. One Republican I spoke to tonight said no staff changes can change the outcome of Iraq and that's what the election will be judged on. But Brian, something seems to be in the wind. We're watching it, we're recording it, we're monitoring it. But we don't have anything hard tonight.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center