In June 2009, WorldNetDaily began touting "a series of monthly 'Freedom Index' polls conducted exclusively for WND by the public opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies." The first poll, released June 15, claimed to find that "nearly half of all adults in America believe there has been a decrease in personal freedom under the Obama administration." This was followed the next day with another poll asserting that Americans "are not only aware of questions about Barack Obama's constitutional eligibility for office, but almost half are either 'troubled' by the questions or believe he should release all relevant documents including his long-form birth certificate."
It's unsurprising that WND would hire a pollster who came up with results that meshed nicely with its anti-Obama agenda -- Wenzel Strategies would be WND's ex-pollster if it didn't.
Indeed, company chief Fritz Wenzel plays that part: Regarding the birther poll, WND quotes Wenzel as saying:
Our polling shows that the questions surrounding Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president clearly strike a nerve across America, probably because it is a problem that everybody understands. Every American citizen has a birth certificate, and once in a while we all have to produce them to get a drivers license or gain entrance to school .... And while Obama did get in to the White House, nearly half the country's adults -- 49 percent -- are troubled by this issue and still want him to produce his official long-form birth certificate.
A deeper look into Wenzel's questions provides further evidence of Wenzel's bias. Salon's Alex Koppelman wrote:
Getting a result that favored WND's position on the issue of whether Obama should release a long-form birth certificate (despite the fact that he's already released a copy of his birth certificate and Hawaiian officials have said he was born there) involved a little sleight of hand.
The result trumpeted by WND is that 41.5 percent of respondents said "Obama should release all records, including long-form birth certificate," essentially the "yes" answer WND was looking for. An additional 7.8 percent said they "are troubled by these questions," which the site has been lumping in with the yes answer. The "no" answer, though, they split up into five different responses -- "I am not concerned," "questions not valid," "Obama has met requirements," "Obama has answered all questions" and "requirements outdated -- should be ignored."
It's a neat trick, and a fairly common one; by doing that, you can avoid providing a real reflection of the size of your opposition. In this case, the total of those five answers adds up to a majority of respondents, 50.6 percent.
If it seems that Wenzel, like Zogby, likes to adjust questions to get the answers their clients are seeking, that's not surprising: Wenzel used to work for Zogby International as its director of communications.
There's more evidence of Wenzel's bias, however, in what he did before joining Zogby.
Wenzel is a former political columnist for the Toledo Blade newspaper who quit his job in 2005 to work as a paid media consultant for Ohio Republican congresswoman Jean Schmidt -- according to the Cincinnati CityBeat, Wenzel was making $30,000 in media purchases for Schmidt a mere three days after he left the Blade. He was accused of working for Schmidt while still at the Blade, a clear conflict of interest (not that WND thinks there's anything wrong with that). CityBeat continues:
In "Heartland Politics," a personal blog he maintained while working for the Blade, he wrote a scathing summary of Schmidt's opponents in the GOP primary election, citing former U.S. Rep. Bob McEwen's history of bounced checks and Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine's personal peccadilloes.
"The other front-runner is Jean Schmidt, president of Cincinnati Right To Life," Wenzel wrote on May 3. "While this might be an unpopular post in heavily Democratic Lucas County, the opposite is true down here. A former state representative, she has a good chance to pull things out."
Wenzel was proven right when Schmidt won the GOP primary election June 14. But was Wenzel promoting his future client's candidacy while still working as a reporter for the Blade? That would be a serious conflict of interest.
Both Wenzel and Schmidt's campaign denied that Wenzel did any campaign work before leaving the Blade; the campaign further claimed that Wenzel was not being paid to do its media buys.
That's not the only ethical breach Wenzel has been accused of. In October 2005, Salon reported that Wenzel was being accused, while still with the Blade, of keeping quiet about evidence of alleged financial misdeeds involving Tom Noe, a Republican activist in Ohio with whom Wenzel had a personal relationship. According to Salon, Wenzel was allegedly tipped off about the story months before he claimed he was.
The Blade eventually did break the story of Noe's investment of $50 million in state money in coin speculation and how he could not account for a significant portion of that money -- speculated to have been laundered into political donations to Republicans, including the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign -- though without Wenzel's help. By that time, however, it was 2005, more than a year after Wenzel was allegedly first tipped to the Noe scandal. It also was after the November 2004 presidential election in which Ohio played a key role in re-electing President Bush, an outcome that might have been altered if the allegation that laundered state funds were donated to the Bush-Cheney campaign had been made public before the election.
(Salon also noted that Wenzel worked for Zogby as a "senior political writer" at the same time he was working for the Blade, and that he cited Zogby polls in his Blade articles without disclosing the relationship.)
Those are some serious ethical red flags (again, not that WND sees anything wrong with that). And it sets up a prelude to the skewed questions Wenzel would ask for WND.
A Jan. 19 WND article touted more birther-related Wenzel poll results that included these questions:
- 4. President Obama has still not produced a long-form birth certificate that proves he was born inside the United States. Knowing this, do you consider him to be a legitimate President?
In an April 22 WND article touting poll results from Wenzel, Bob Unruh wrote that "Democrats over the last month actually began to express growing alarm as details of his health-care plan started to emerge." Unruh goes on to quote Wenzel:
Wenzel noted some of the details of Obama's health-care program have begun to emerge this month, "revealing far more restrictions and taxes than first advertised."
"U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that Congress had to pass a bill to find out what is in it is coming true, and it is coming back to haunt Democrats," he said.
But none of the questions in Wenzel's poll even mention health care reform, let alone explain what the provisions are -- it was another rehashing of the "freedom index" questions. Wenzel is not only making conclusions about his poll that he has no evidence to support, his biased attack on health reform -- also without citing any evidence -- raises yet another red flag about the intent of his polling.
A May 31 WND article by Unruh touted more skewed Wenzel polling claiming that "more Americans than ever suspect the president is hiding information about his own background and want him to come clean." But a look at the questions Wenzel asked -- listed at the end of the article -- demonstrates how most of the questions were clearly designed to promote a certain response. Note a certain pattern in the questioning (which we'll put in bold to be helpful):
- Recent polls suggest a significant percentage of Americans are concerned about Barack Obama's refusal to release his long-form birth certificate, school records, college records, Harvard Law School papers, medical records, travel records, passport records and other personal documents. What do you think he should do?
That's right -- almost every question was prefaced by the unsupported statement that "Recent polls suggest a significant percentage of Americans question Obama's own constitutional eligibility for office as a natural born citizen."
Most people would call that push polling. But apparently it's just another day at work for Fritz Wenzel and WND, where honesty and ethical behavior isn't exactly a priority.
(This item was originally posted at ConWebWatch.)