The Denial of Innocence and the Terror of Ignorance

For Immediate Release: May 3, 2007

Poll Report on the War on Terrorism

The Denial of Innocence and the Terror of Ignorance

Berkeley, CA—Last week, more than five years into the “War on Terrorism”, Retro Poll asked a national sample of Americans this question: “Do you agree or not with the government’s assertion that people seized and detained at Guantanamo are presumed to be dangerous terrorists or they would not have been seized in the first place?” A slightly different wording last October had garnered 37% agreement. In the current poll 48% agreed. We conclude that a substantial proportion of people do not grasp a key principle of democracy--when everyone is not presumed innocent under the law until he/she/we have been proven guilty of a crime in a fair trial, dictatorial powers of government achieve supremacy. Civil rights exist not mainly to protect criminals, but to protect the public from arbitrary government abuse of authority. How come many don’t know this, or are looking the other way?

Retro Poll data, based on small random samples--in this case 164 people—are not projected to precisely represent the general public on individual questions. Retro Poll instead focuses on statistically significant comparisons and unexpected findings within its random samples. In the current sample only 9 (9 out of 164) people could identify Maher Arar as the “Canadian citizen awarded $11 million for being tortured under the US extraordinary rendition.” Two times that number (18) misidentified him as one of the 9/11 hijackers and 136 didn’t know. Likewise 70% did not know that Italy has brought charges for kidnapping against 26 CIA agents in a case of “extraordinary rendition.” Why are such important stories of extraordinary rendition, an anti-democratic if not outlawed process, not common knowledge? Where do people buy their ignorance and where is the source of this ignorance?

Lack of information is the tip of an iceberg. To get answers, Retropollsters asked the extent to which people believe various major corporate media organizations present the truth. The options were “usually”, “mostly when it suits their interests”, and “half the time or less.” Whether asking about CNN, NYTimes, Fox, CBS, MSNBC, NBC or others, in every case less than 40% of the respondents thought the media “usually” tells the truth. Moreover, between 22 and 28 percent said that each outlet tells the truth “half the time or less.” Retro Poll is a media critical group, but this can’t be true. Even if the media manipulates, distorts, censors, its methods must be more subtle than to lie half the time. This latter response represents mass disaffection and mistrust of media.

Exploring the data further by cross-tabulating opinions on the media with responses to factual questions, the manipulation of the public becomes clearer. Not surprisingly, those who tended to “usually” trust Fox were consistently different in their political views from those other minorities who “usually” trust other corporate media outlets, or those who believe Fox tells the truth “half the time or less”. In fact, those who think Fox usually tells the truth were consistently less aware or blind to important facts—for example, 2 out 3 claimed that the “U.S. opposes and does not teach, sanction or engage in torture” and more than 3 out of 4 denied that the Administration “fabricated intelligence on Iraq” before the war. By now these are facts so hard to deny that one must belong to an ideological support group or sect that thinks everything they read or hear is a conspiracy—perhaps against Mr. Bush or against themselves or against “America” or the “white race.”

Regarding the presumption of innocence or guilt of Guantanamo prisoners, seventy-seven percent of Fox supporters (within the “usually truthful” group) held the presumption that captives are all terrorists. Surprisingly, adherents of other corporate media were not so highly different as on other questions with 40-52% also sustaining the government’s position. In contrast, however, people who distrusted the various other media--truth “less than half the time”—supported the presumption of innocence. Presumption of guilt was only 10% for distrusters of NBC, 13% for CBS and 23% for CNN. These statistically significant results suggest that people who trust the Fox network tend to be the most ignorant and susceptible to anti-democratic demagogy but that many who trust other corporate media outlets--when compared with people who do not trust the corporate media market in general--also appear deceived and unprepared to defend their democratic rights. Monitoring disaffection with corporate media may be a useful tool to estimate support for public rights and democracy. The full questionnaire, poll responses and links defending factual questions can be found at .


Marc Sapir, MD, MPH
Executive Director, Retro Poll

Warren Gold, MD
Director, Retro Poll

Mickey Huff, MA
Director, Retro Poll

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