A recent report from the Associated Press blared this headline: “AP Poll: Americans approve of drone strikes on terrorists.”
A news service treating its own in-house polling as “news” is not new by a long shot. However, speaking of long shots, the story itself and the poll it purports to “report” warrant further review.
That’s just what the folks over at The Intercept did.
According to the poll, 60 percent of Americans do indeed favor the use of drones to “target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.”
However, as The Intercept noted, there is a problem with the question as well as the answer because one did not beget a true measure of the other:
The problem is the U.S. drone program does much more than kill members of al-Qaida: it also kills a significant number of civilians, and drone operators often don’t even know exactly whom they’re targeting. So the AP’s own poll doesn’t show, as the story claims, “broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama.” What it does show is broad support for a drone program that doesn’t exist.
Is the AP covering for Obama?
Moreover, The Intercept observes that perhaps the AP’s own reporters are not buying into what they’re reporting. As noted in the ninth paragraph:
The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government’s assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the U.S. government disputes.
Drone skeptics say most polls on the subject frame the question with the assumption that those targeted are terrorists, when it’s not clear that is always the case.
“Almost everyone, of course, is going to support killing people who are trying to kill us, but that’s not who we are necessarily targeting in each case,” Sarah Kreps, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University, told AP.
The reporters might be trying to say that their news organization was merely shaping the question to get a preconceived or desired response, which would fit with the legacy media’s long-time role of protecting President Obama, who, as commander-in-chief, directs the military’s drone effort and has relied heavily on them.
Wrong questions, right answers
As noted by The Intercept, the poll was conducted for the AP by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, which regularly supplies surveys for the newswire service. The first drone question is: “Do you favor or oppose the United States using small unmanned aircraft called ‘drones’ to target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaida overseas?”
Perhaps the question should have been more like: “Do you support the U.S. government killing Americans who it claims to be involved in terrorism, without charges, trial or a lawyer?”
In the same survey, AP reported that more than four in ten – or 43 percent – of people who said they favored using drones or at least did not oppose using them, “said it’s unacceptable to use drones if innocent Americans could be killed.”
AP reported further on the scope of the entire drone program under Presidents Bush and Obama:
Since the first operation in 2002, there have been 396 drone strikes in Pakistan and 126 in Yemen, according to the New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes using media reports. The CIA has conducted all of the strikes in Pakistan and most of them in Yemen, though the military also conducts drone strikes in Yemen.
If the AP longs for more war reporting, it doesn’t need the U.S. to be involved in a conflict; there are plenty of others going on around the world.