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Profile: Greg Langer
Greg Langer was a participant or observer in the following events:
The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 150-151] One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).
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