“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
That may be time-tested advice, but it seems even major media organizations fail to follow it from time to time. How else could you explain the dubious polling “data” – obtained by highly questionable methodology which was roundly debunked nearly a year ago – showing up in multiple stories across several different news outlets?
Labor unions, their front groups and various other labor-backed organizations are in the midst of an effort to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers, which probably has nothing whatsoever to do with replenishing their depleted coffers in the wake of declining union membership nationwide. As their crusade has dragged on, they’ve engaged in various forms of familiar big labor street theater – strikes, walkouts, even descending on McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois to stage a protest.
To push their agenda further, they have recently circulated a poll that, on its face, makes some shocking claims. According to the “data” from Hart Research Associates – commissioned by the union-backed “National Council for Occupational Safety and Health” – 75 percent of fast food kitchen workers received multiple burns in the past year, and over a third were advised by managers to cover their burns with mustard, mayonnaise or some other condiment instead of actual first aid treatment.
Needless to say, news outlets sympathetic to Big Labor were quick to pick up the “story.” Mother Jones ran with the poll numbers, as did the Kremlin propagandists at the former Russia Today. But more mainstream publications like Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times reported on the poll as well.
It took The Huffington Post to point out – to their credit – the shoddy circumstances under which the poll was conducted. They reported that Hart pollster Guy Molyneux admitted “the poll was done online, via Facebook, in a manner in which some respondents were eligible to win gift cards.”
This “shock poll” turned out to be nothing more than a Facebook survey, and not only that, a Facebook survey for which respondents were bribed for their participation. It should come as no surprise that American Association for Public Opinion Research, the national professional organization for pollsters, takes a dim view of the legitimacy of such surveys. They even have a name for them, which would seem to reflect their opinion of the practice: “SLOP,” or “self-selected opinion polls.” AAPOR cautions that “[t]he Internet is awash with SLOP polls” which often draw “only those with an ax to grind,” and can miss key demographics as well as “invite manipulation.”
Of course, if manipulation was the unions’ goal, they seem to have achieved success with their SLOP poll. In fact, this isn’t even the first time they’ve used this shady tactic. Almost a year ago, Hart Research pulled the same stunt – Facebook survey, gift cards and all – and several news organizations reported on the results. They were promptly called out by The Washington Post’s media reporter Erik Wemple, who got Guy Molyneux of Hart to admit “an online survey isn’t the ‘gold standard’ of opinion research.”
Incredibly, at least two of the news organizations specifically cited by Wemple for running a faulty Hart poll last April – Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times – actually did so again just recently. Once again, they reported as fact the results of a Facebook poll with all the legitimacy of an online quiz asking “Which House of Cards Character Are You?” They clearly haven’t learned from their mistakes.
Perhaps they should take a lesson from their colleagues at the Associated Press, which only accepts as “valid and reliable” polls that are “based on a scientific, random sample of a population — in which every member of the population has a known probability of inclusion.” The AP, in fact, reported on recent union complaints about fast-food working conditions without any mention of the questionable poll.
Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times have twice tainted their reporting after being twice duped by a slapdash Facebook poll pushed by Big Labor – and this time, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Ryan Williams is an adviser to Worker Center Watch, an organization dedicated to exposing corruption. He formerly served as a spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney and John Sununu.