Brad O'Leary had already made a name for himself as a right-wing political consultant, TV producer and radio host. He created further attention for himself last fall when WorldNetDaily published his book on Barack Obama, The Audacity of Deceit.
The book is a piece of speculative scaremongering about how Obama's policies "could destroy America." O'Leary makes numerous false and misleading claims in the book:
-- He asserts that "Obama fought successfully to keep blatant infanticide legal in Illinois" (p. 14). In fact, Obama opposed a proposed state law that would have designated any fetus that survived an abortion -- even pre-viable ones that cannot survive outside the womb -- as a "human person" and making it a crime to allow them to die, even if they cannot survive outside the womb. Obama also claimed that Illinois law already required doctors to provide medical treatment for all post-viability fetuses.
-- He claims that Obama's childhood education program, the "Zero to Five Plan," would "remove infants and young children from their homes, herding them into government schools" and "mandate government childcare centers for children up to five years of age" (pp. 19-20). In fact, Obama's plan specifically states that any universally available preschool would be "voluntary."
-- He claims that Obama "proposes to tax seven-tenths of a percent of GDP in order to fund his $845 billion giveaway to the poor nations of the world. This is equal to all the federal taxes collected in the U.S. for a period of four months" (p. 57). In fact, the Global Poverty Act bill to which O'Leary is referring does not impose a tax or allow any other body to impose a tax on the United States, would establish no specific funding source, and would not commit the United States to any targeted level of spending.
-- He claims that Obama favors "increasing the death tax rate to 55 percent for any income past the first $1 million" (p. 150).In fact, according to FactCheck.org, Obama's stance on the estate tax during the campaign was "to apply the tax only to estates valued at more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples), holding the maximum rate at 45 percent."
-- He buys into the right-wing Obama birth certificate conspiracy, uncritically repeating assertions that "considerable debate is emerging around the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate as posted on the Web. Some bloggers feel the published birth certificate has been altered, but the Obama campaign refuses to provide the original for press verification" (p. 197). In fact, O'Leary's own publisher -- WorldNetDaily -- found the certificate released by the Obama campaign to be "authentic" (though it continues to pretend it never did).
It's no surprise that a right-winger like O'Leary would issue a factually dubious book-length smear of the Democratic presidential candidate. The surprise was his marketing strategy, which ran separate and parallel to whatever his publisher was doing: The two websites O'Leary used to publicize the book make no mention of the fact that WND published it, the buy-the-book link on his website goes not to the WND store but to Amazon, and he didn't use WND's favorite publicist Maria Sliwa, who has promoted previous WND books, but his own direct-marketing company.
The powers that be at WND apparently didn't feel slighted by O'Leary's code of silence -- after all, telling lies about Obama is WND's modus operandi these days, so their agendas are quite simpatico.
The centerpiece of The Audacity of Deceit is a series of poll questions that purport to gauge public opinion vis-a-vis Obama's views. Most are taken from an "Associated Television News/Zogby America Poll" taken a couple months before the book was published. But it's never made clear in the book that Associated Television News is an outfit run by O'Leary himself. Its website shows it to be merely an aggregator of other news websites; it generates no original reporting.
In other words, he paid for the poll he's writing about.
O'Leary's anti-Obama bias shows in the poll questions he asks -- Obama's positions are misrepresented or presented in a leading manner in order to get the answers O'Leary wants to promote. One question, for instance, is prefaced by the statement: "Some say Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes and increase trade barriers are similar to those created by President Herbert Hoover in the 1930s, which contributed to worsening America's economy." It's never explained who "some" are, and nowhere in the book does O'Leary substantiate his claim that Obama plans to "increase trade barriers."
The polls have another issue: Zogby itself. While Zogby has earned a reputation for being conservative-friendly -- Newsmax has previously contracted with Zogby to do joint polls, and a recent poll showing Obama's popularity rating several points below other polls was embraced by conservatives -- its polling has become decidedly inaccurate in recent years. He notoriously predicted John Kerry would defeat George W. Bush in 2004, for which he later issued a mea culpa. Further, as fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver details, Zogby's polling for 2006 senatorial races deviated from the actual margin of victory by an average of 8.7 points, including six misses of 10 points or more and one miss of almost 30 points, and his 2006 gubernatorial race polling deviated from the actual margin of victory by an average of 7.7 points, choosing the wrong winner in five of 19 states.
Zogby also frequently sells its services to clients, including many conservative organizations. As Chris Mooney at the American Prospect wrote: "Numerous Zogby Polls for various special interests have relied on creative phrasing to give the impression of wide public support for the view that the given client is promoting."
The O'Leary polls cited in WND -- usually described as being a joint venture of Zogby and ATI-News, another name for Associated Television News -- have continued the trend from the polls in the book of being crafted to provide the answers O'Leary wants to hear. Again, it's usually not made clear that O'Leary himself bought these polls.
A Sept. 18, 2008, WND article touted an "ATI-News/Zogby poll" that asked the question, "Do you think that Barack Obama's plan to increase taxes on businesses and the wealthy will make you better or worse off?" But at no point does O'Leary or WND offer evidence that Obama planned to "increase taxes on businesses"; indeed, Obama had said during the campaign that while he wanted to close corporate tax loopholes, but he also intended to extend some Bush tax cuts for businesses and eliminate capital gains taxes on startup and small businesses, which O'Leary's poll doesn't mention.
O'Leary's false suggestion that Obama planned to raise taxes on all businesses is misleading at best -- which arguably invalidates the poll results -- as is O'Leary's assertion that "This poll clearly shows that a majority of voters, including independents, women and lower-income Americans, think that if Obama's tax plan is put into effect it will cause them personal economic pain."
A Nov. 25. 2008, Newsmax article repeated an O'Leary press release on "an exclusive post-election poll conducted by ATI-News and Zogby International" claiming that "A majority of American voters say they would have been less likely to vote for President-elect Barack Obama if they had known he supported controversial legislation that would eliminate workers' right to a secret ballot in union elections." But that poll is based on a misleading question.
According to the press release, the question asked by pollsters was whether they had known "about Barack Obama's support for a congressional bill to outlaw workers' rights to a secret ballot in union elections." But that's a false portrayal of the Employee Free Choice Act, which the press release called "misleadingly dubbed." In fact, the law would not "outlaw workers' rights to a secret ballot in union elections." Rather, it permits a "card check" process that allows a majority of workers to form a union without a formal election but provides for secret-ballot elections as well.
Basing a question on a false premise makes O'Leary's poll worthless.
A Feb. 11 WND column by O'Leary touted "a recent poll conducted by ATI-News and Zogby International" purporting to demonstrate that Obama's stimulus plan is unpopular with voters. But the poll questions as O'Leary described them were clearly skewed to present a negative impression of the plan to those being polled:
-- "Some people say that the nearly one-trillion dollars in debt and subsequent interest incurred by the stimulus bill during an economic downturn will make the recovery hard to achieve. Do you agree or disagree?"
-- "Some Republicans say the Obama stimulus package spends too much and stimulates too little. Do you agree or disagree?"
-- "Most Republicans oppose the currently proposed stimulus bill supported by President Obama because they say there is too much money being spent for non-stimulus items. Do you agree or disagree that too much money is being spent on items that won't improve the economy?"
Poll respondents only heard the views of Republicans and "some people" about the stimulus bill, not the side of supporters of the bill. That introduces a bias and, again, makes the poll unreliable.
In a Feb. 13 WND column, O'Leary advanced from misleading poll questions to outright lies. One question he cites as being asked:
"The current stimulus package supported by President Obama contains nearly $4.2 billion for neighborhood stabilization activities that could go to organizations such as ACORN or the League of Women Voters, that would spend it on voter registration activities and other community involvement programs. Do you favor or oppose this spending provision?"
In fact, ACORN is not even mentioned in the stimulus bill, let alone allocated any money, and ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis has stated the group isn't even eligible for the money. So O'Leary's assertion that the money "could go to ... ACORN" is a speculative scare tactic that invalidates the response.
O'Leary's poll also asked:
"The stimulus bill would allow undocumented workers, who are also referred to as illegal aliens, who are working and paying taxes to collect a tax rebate check of $500 per person. Do you agree or disagree with this provision?"
That's an outright lie as well. In fact, Social Security numbers are needed to qualify for the tax credits in the bill, which expressly disqualifies nonresident aliens from legally receiving them. Another false scare tactic, another invalidated response.
A Feb. 23 WND column by O'Leary offered up another "ATI-News/Zogby poll" as purported evidence that President Obama "has alienated independents, small business leaders, young voters, Catholics and Republicans on a number of legislative victories." But O'Leary didn't link to the poll or provide any of the questions asked in it, so it's a safe bet that the poll is chock full of even more misleading or outright false questions.
O'Leary didn't need skewed polls to get basic facts wrong in a Feb. 25 WND column. He asserted that Obama called for "a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans," which conflicts with the "32 percent of Americans who are not obligated to pay federal income tax." In fact, he called for a tax cut for for 95 percent of working Americans."
O'Leary also claimed that Obama "said there were no earmarks in his budget to be presented to Congress this week," even though "there are 9,000 earmarks." But O'Leary confused the budget Obama submitted for the upcoming fiscal year -- which contains no earmarks, since those are added by Congress, not the president -- with an omnibus spending bill for the current fiscal year that did contain the earmarks. O'Leary's false claims were repeated in a separate Feb. 25 WND article.
A history of false and misleading claims, however, isn't stopping O'Leary's anti-Obama activism. He has penned another book for WND, Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech, in which he asserts that "Barack Obama and the Democrat-dominated Congress will end-run critics with legislation that will curb dissent on talk radio through the imposition of 'localism' rules and community watchdog boards across America." O'Leary is concerned only about radio stations that carry conservative hosts, even though only about one-tenth of radio stations in the U.S. have a news/talk format.
I have not yet examined the book to see if O'Leary provides any explanation as to why it's a bad thing for radio stations to have local content that serves the community in which they are located, but the book's overall tone can likely be extrapolated from a sycophantic speech O'Leary gave at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in presenting an award to Rush Limbaugh:
I believe that when Ronald Reagan lifted the Fairness Doctrine and Rush Limbaugh took to the mic, somewhere, someplace in heaven, Benjamin Franklin or his spirit has stayed with him all these years. I believe that today, Rush Limbaugh does for America exactly what Benjamin Franklin did for the Founding Fathers.
O'Leary is using the same method of skewed polling he forwarded in The Audacity of Deceit to promote his new book as well. An April 28 WND article by Drew Zahn touted a "new Zogby poll" that was "commissioned by the O'Leary Report" claiming that "no government control of the Internet, no 'Fairness Doctrine' managing talk radio and if newspaper companies fail as a profitable means of disseminating news, then let them die, because Americans will not support a bailout." The O'Leary Report -- which appears to be little more than Obama-bashing designed to promote his books, based on the edition published on his website -- is apparently the new vehicle through which O'Leary is buying his Zogby polls these days.
It's not until the 23rd paragraph of Zahn's article that O'Leary is even mentioned, and Zahn makes no effort to point out that O'Leary is, in fact, the guy behind the O'Leary Report.
Neither the WND article nor the O'Leary Report website had a link to the actual poll data, which would list the actual questions that were asked. That O'Leary hasn't make the data public suggests he has something to hide here too.
O'Leary has decided he can make some money bashing Obama -- which he uses to buy skewed Zogby polls that unfairly bash him some more. Nice racket if you can get it.
(A version of this article appears at ConWebWatch.)