Publisher’s Position: The Truth About The Sentinel’s Obsession

By Steve Hunley

Ever since The Knoxville Focus started a weekly poll, the Knoxville News-Sentinel has been obsessed about our new feature. Within days of the first poll, Sentinel columnist Georgianna Vines was burning up my phone to quiz me about the poll. I was surprised the Sentinel would be interested in covering another paper’s features, but Ms. Vines called me something like four times and there were a couple of stories about it, as I recall.

The recent editorial appearing in the Sentinel about the “phone poll flap” is entirely a creation of State Senator Stacey Campfield and the Knoxville News-Sentinel. It is precisely a “flap” because the Sentinel made it so. It is stating the obvious to say that the Sentinel is disturbed by the weekly Focus poll. It was merely a manifestation of Campfield’s insatiable need for attention.

The fact is, the Sentinel has never gotten over the beating it took for promoting the gigantic tax increase demanded by school superintendent James McIntyre. Along with their political partner, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, the Sentinel went all in to try and force the tax increase down the throats of the people of Knoxville and Knox County. Commissioners and Board of Education members publicly pondered raising the already sky high sales tax or perhaps the property tax or maybe some combination of both. The Focus polled on the question of the tax increase and, not surprisingly, found an overwhelming majority of Knoxvilians and Knox Countians opposed to it. Calls began inundating the Commissioners, one of whom stated ‘We got the message.’ The Commissioners quickly concluded no tax increase was needed.

Despite an extensive advertising campaign paid for by a collection of Chamber millionaires, the tax increase fell flat and both the Chamber and the Knoxville News-Sentinel were mortally embarrassed. It was shortly thereafter that the Sentinel commenced its absurd vendetta against Mayor Tim Burchett, whose opposition to the tax increase infuriated them.

When Senator Campfield squalled about a recent telephone poll that went awry, the Sentinel and others assumed incorrectly it was a poll sponsored by The Knoxville Focus. It was not a Focus poll, but the Sentinel folks got hotter than an old man on Viagra in a feather bed in August. That is precisely why the Sentinel avidly pursued such a non-story. They went hunting for bear and caught an honest mistake.

Where was the editorial spewing their righteous indignation over Senator Campfield’s deliberately misstating his financial disclosure statement?

The fact the Knoxville News-Sentinel would cite the Gallup organization for its accuracy in polling was nothing less than amusing. Apparently someone at the Sentinel forgot the Gallup poll notoriously got the 2012 presidential election wrong. The Gallup tracking polls consistently had challenger Mitt Romney leading all the way to Election Day. Barack Obama won the election by four percentage points. In fact, Gallup was so embarrassed they felt the need to release a seventeen-page explanation for why they missed it so badly.

Gallup explained it had misidentified voters, underrepresented regions, had difficulties with weighting voters of various ethnicities, and used a non-standard sampling method. Yet this is the polling organization the Sentinel piously tells us polls fewer people to get more accurate results. Huh?

This is hardly rocket science; the simple truth is that the Sentinel hates The Knoxville Focus poll like my little dog Opie hates vermin. Time and again The Focus poll has revealed the divide between what the Sentinel wishes public opinion was and what the people really think. Of course the Sentinel doesn’t really give a hoot what the people think; how the Sentinel could possibly chastise anyone for ever pushing a point of view and trying to influence public opinion is hypocrisy of the highest order. These are the same people who believe most public officials should be appointed rather than elected because they don’t think ordinary citizens are smart enough to be trusted with a ballot. The Sentinel’s attempt to influence public opinion on behalf of a tax increase was hardly a secret, but they resent anyone else who would try to do the same thing.

The Focus has no apology to make for wanting to know what the people think about the issues facing our community. People like being asked their opinion and if they are to be included in their own government, they should be asked their opinion.

If the Sentinel wanted to question the validity of a poll, perhaps they should have started with that commissioned by the Chamber purporting most folks in Knox County favored giving the school system more money out of their own pockets. But then, the Sentinel liked the way that their poll came out. When The Focus ran the same poll, our results came back exactly opposite to that of the Sentinel’s poll.

I have been surprised by the results of some of our polls; I have been less than thrilled with the results of some of our polls, but I have published them nevertheless. I think it is important to know what people are thinking about public questions.

Cyragon, the independent contractor who conducts the weekly Focus poll, is a reputable polling firm and I am absolutely convinced of the accuracy of their polls. I have seen at least one instance where a Cyragon election poll for a particular candidate was within one vote of the ultimate result. I doubt polling gets any more accurate than that.

Rather than try and discredit the Focus poll, perhaps the Sentinel ought to spend some of its money to do its own polling.

The Sentinel couldn’t find  anything except pushing its own opinion with a guide dog and a GPS.

 

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