I was recently invited by my State Senator, Jane Cunningham (R-Dist. 7), to fill out a survey about the pressing issues of the day (or at least the issues agitating legislators during this soon to be completed legislative session). Instead of the usual mail-in surveys I have received in the past, I was directed to a website where I could fill in a rather impressive online form — with, to give Senator Cunningham her dues, provision for reasonably lengthy comments.
However, as you might expect, given the proclivities of the estimable senator, parsing the survey questions themselves provided something of a challenge. If the Senator seriously wants to know what I think about the questions before the legislature, why wasn’t she more careful about how she presented them to me?
For example, a question labeled “Secret Ballots,” clearly motivated by the widespread Republican hysteria over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), avoided all mention of the EFCA and Missouri Republican efforts to void it by enacting a constitutional amendment, but asked instead:
The term “secret ballot” means that, in an election, a person may cast his or her vote in private without having to reveal to anyone how he or she voted.
Would you support ensuring that workers who must vote on whether or not to join a union be allowed to cast their vote by secret ballot?
Well who isn’t for the secret ballot? But where does Jane tell her constituents that the card check option in the EFCA does not preclude a secret ballot? Where does she explain the tactics employers often use to intimidate employees who participate in that secret balloting?
If enough respondents answer this loaded question affirmatively to indicate that they support the secret ballot, which is mom and apple pie under another name after all, will Jane use the response to justify her support for anti-EFCA state legislation? Or is the one-sided information that the survey question presents an effort to build anti-EFCA support?
The explanatory text introducing a question under the rubric “Energy” states flatly that the federal government is heading toward a coal emission (carbon) tax, and that it will cause electric bills in Missouri to skyrocket 30-50% at least, and maybe up to 80%. Then, coyly, respondents are asked if they want such a tax. Golly gee, do you wonder what the answer will most likely be?
Anyway, isn’t the Obama administration still toying with cap-and-trade as opposed to carbon taxes? And even if a federal carbon tax were to be levied, where do the figures for the increases in electricity costs come from? Where is the information about methods that have been proposed to mitigate electricity cost increases for poor and rural consumers? Or information about the cost of doing nothing?
Another of my favorite questions from the survey asks:
Should the definition of bullying, as it is used in school anti-bullying policies, be expanded to include special protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students and staff?
“Special” protection? What about just plain old protection for an especially at-risk group?
Examples of bias and misinformation abound in this survey document, ostensibly intended to gather information for an ostensibly conscientious politician. What’s the actual harm, you may ask? After all, it’s only one more example of a self-serving political hack serving her own biases, something we have all seen lots of times before. Maybe, though, we should think again. Propaganda, even disguised as it is in this survey, can be effective in very nasty ways — just talk to any habitual viewer of FOX cable news — and misinformation is just that, no matter how you get it.