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Prison Scandal: Is It a Pivotal Story, or a Media-Driven Frenzy?

In polling conducted May 20-23, majorities of Democrats (52 percent), independents (56 percent) and Republicans (76 percent) all told CBS News interviewers that the media have spent too much time on stories about Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. soldiers. Combined, 61 percent said the story had been over-covered, compared with 32 percent who said the media had given the story the right amount of coverage. Six percent said it was given too little coverage. Two weeks earlier, only 49 percent said the media had spent too much time on the story. [IMGCAP(1)]

In another poll — taken May 18-19 by Opinion Dynamics for Fox News — 70 percent said that news reports about U.S. military operations in Iraq have been “more likely to focus on the negative things happening in Iraq and leave out the positive things.” Just 11 percent said the reverse. These numbers have also grown over time. In October 2003, the responses were 60 and 19 percent, respectively.

Congress and the Prisoner Abuse Scandal. In a May 13-14 Princeton Survey Research Associates poll for Newsweek, 45 percent of respondents said the Republicans in Congress were more interested in using Abu Ghraib for partisan political advantage, compared with 39 percent who said the GOP was more interested in getting all the facts and making sure the abuse didn’t happen again.

However, the Democrats in Congress shouldn’t be crowing too loudly. The poll found that 56 percent thought the Democrats in Congress were more interested in partisan gain, while just 30 percent thought the party was seeking the facts of the case.

Oil Companies, OPEC and Blame for Rising Gas Prices. Who’s to blame for rising gasoline prices? Answers in a May 20-23 ABC News/Washington Post poll were split almost evenly. In that survey, 28 percent blamed oil-producing countries for the recent rise in prices, 26 percent U.S. oil companies, and 27 percent the Bush administration.

Using a somewhat different methodology, CBS — in a poll taken May 20-23 — found 62 percent gave the oil companies a “great deal” of blame for higher gas prices, and 27 percent “some” blame. Oil-producing nations came in with figures of 55 percent and 34 percent, respectively, while the war in Iraq garnered 34 percent and 37 percent for those two categories.

In an open-ended Gallup question from May 21-23, 22 percent said they thought big business and the oil companies were the reason gasoline prices had been rising so much. Another 19 percent volunteered the war in Iraq, 9 percent cited OPEC or Saudi Arabia manipulating supply, 8 percent pointed to supply and demand, 7 percent said government and politics, and 5 percent said President Bush.

In the CBS News poll, 58 percent said the price of gasoline was something a president could do a lot about, while roughly one-third said it was beyond any president’s control.

Media Coverage of Bush and Kerry. In the mid-May Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 32 percent said reports in the news media had been too easy on President Bush and 46 percent too tough.

As for John Kerry, one-third of respondents said media reports had been too easy on him and 24 percent said the reporting had been too tough.

Interestingly, a quarter of Democrats thought the media had been too tough on the president. Among Republicans, only 15 percent said the media had been too tough on Kerry.

Political Conventions: A Waste of Time? Half of the respondents to a May 4-5 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll consider the upcoming political conventions a waste of time and money. By contrast, 32 percent thought the party confabs were an important part of the nominating process. By party, 46 percent of Democrats said they were a waste of time and money, compared with 50 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents.

The Armed Forces. Gallup asked for the public’s views of the most prestigious branch of the armed services in a May 21-23 survey. The Marines finished first with 44 percent, followed by the Air Force (20 percent), Army (15 percent), Navy (7 percent) and Coast Guard (5 percent). The Army won top honors as most important to our national defense (25 percent), followed closely by the Marines and Air Force (23 percent).

The Olympic Games. A mid-April survey by AP/Ipsos-Public Affairs found that 52 percent of respondents believed it was very or somewhat likely that a terrorist attack of some sort would take place at the Olympic Games in Athens, compared with 44 percent who said such an attack wasn’t likely.

Arnold! In the May 18-24 Field poll, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) notched a 65 percent approval rating from California voters in general — and a striking 48 percent approval rating among California Democrats.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.

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