I find the results of this poll to be very disturbing. The boilerplate summary:
In particular, it is very surprising to me that over 50% of Americans would still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the start of the war. Given the enormous amount of media coverage that these issues have had recently, I would have expected that this and related views would have become far less prevalent.
I can’t see how this would be the case unless a very large number of people assume that media organizations, as a rule, don’t tell the truth about what is happening in the world. This might be connected to the belief many people seem to have in a “liberal media.” One can plausibly argue that most media organizations show some bias in editorials and how they present stories, and I assumed that this was the worst most people believed. I had interpreted recent studies showing increasing distrust of media organizations in this light.
However, if half of Americans think “clear evidence that Iraq was supporting Al Queda has been found in Iraq,” I think suspicion of the media must go much deeper. I suspect that a very large fraction of the population, when reading a news story that seems to reflect badly on President Bush, must simply assume the story is a lie — a severely distorted version of the facts or even a complete fabrication.
This helps to explain why Bush’s popularity ratings don’t seem to have suffered due to the continuing problems in Iraq. Moreover, in this light certain recent statements by the president make more sense. I had thought Bush’s continuing unwillingness to accept that he was wrong about the threat Iraq posed was making him look increasingly out-of-touch and even silly, but now I see that this isn’t the case. As long as Bush continues to maintain that weapons of mass destruction may still be found in Iraq, a huge fraction of the electorate will continue to believe him regardless of the evidence. If he never admits a mistake, they will assume he has never made a mistake.
I don’t want to give the impression Bush is totally to blame here. This is a reasonable course of action for the president to take considering that the people who believe otherwise mostly wouldn’t vote for him regardless of what he says, and it would be unreasonable to expect any politician to take actions that would reduce his chance of getting reelected.
Unfortunately, I think public opinion in this country has become such that it is less politically damaging for politicians to tell obvious lies about the state of the world and their past behavior than to admit mistakes. This is a recipe for extraordinarily bad policy. Am I totally off base here? If not, is there anything we can do about this?