Reuters Mangles Storys Until John McCain Looks Good

Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 12:16 PM

The old "what's in a name" question occurred to me as I read a recent bylined piece from Reuters bearing the headline "Majority of economists see McCain better for stocks: poll." Wow. "The majority of economists" out of the tons of "economists" in America, of every stripe and persuasion.

Yeah, right. Only if you make a double misrepresentation about who was polled.

First line of the actual Reuters story, with emphasis added:
The U.S. stock market would fare better in the first year after a victory by Republican presidential candidate John McCain than by his Democratic rival Barack Obama, according to a majority of economists at U.S. banks and research groups polled by Reuters
Well that's just a little different, huh? I guess you can justify leaving out all those academic economists if you want. It would have been nice to clarify that in the headline, but at least the story is covering two diverse groups: bank economists and economists who work for "research groups." The latter probably includes those great thinkers at think tanks and the like.

Wrongo, Sherlock. Read the article and you find that they only polled 29 people, and the only one quoted in the article is Hugh Johnson, "chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors in Albany." That's an investment advisory firm, folks. It's not a "bank," so I guess Reuters is classifying investment advisors as "research groups." I'm pretty sure I'm right, because the only other thing the piece says about who was polled is:

The sample includes a cross-section of U.S. financial institutions, large and small, including several prominent Wall Street names.
So they polled 29 people, apparently all or most of whom are actively involved in the business end of Wall Street. Not quite so impressive (but not enough to stop McCain's campaign from posting the story on McCain's Facebook page.)

But wait, there's yet another disconnect between the headline and text. Yes, it turns out that the majority of the 29 people actively involved in Wall Street did say that McCain's first year would be better for Wall Street (21 to 6, with 2 no responses). But that should be pretty self evident given the audience Reuters chose and the fact that McCain favors cutting taxes on investors. In fact, the obvious tax issue was the reason behind the one person quoted in the story, Hugh Johnson, thought McCain's first year would be "better" for Wall Street:

Preserving the capital gains and dividend tax rate (at) 15 percent is in my view very important to investors and therefore very important to Wall Street.
That's hardly a comment on the wisdom or integrity of the two candidates' overall economic plans. And here's a surprise: when asked about the overall quality of their economic plans, the respondents split pretty evenly, even though the poll was heavily tilted toward investors (emphasis added):
But the survey of 29 firms taken alongside a regular Reuters economic poll also found that economists had mixed views on the two candidates' economic plans.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "very good", 12 economists gave McCain's proposals higher marks, while nine rated the two candidates equally and eight preferred Obama's policies, according to the poll released on Wednesday.

Given who they polled, I take that as a victory for Obama. I will give McCain some credit for leaving that last quote in the story he posted on his Facebook page.

Isn't that an awful lot of label mangling in one short piece? And all the labels that got mangled involve things important to interpreting the poll.