While most folks in the UK have got their news on the US Presidential Election from the BBC and maybe CNN, newspaper websites have been trying to get a slice of the action. And the eagerness of those at Mail Online backfired on them badly the other day as they were well and truly suckered by the Romney campaign into running a completely bogus set of internal poll numbers.
Why the GOP might want to target a UK site might not be obvious at first, until you realise that the Mail’s web presence gets a lot of its business from the States. All that was needed was a suitably authoritative pundit who would take Mitt’s men on trust, and here would be some invaluable propaganda presented as fact, and perfectly placed to encourage a few more citizens to go out and vote.
And so it came to pass: “Exclusive: Romney UP one point in Ohio and TIED in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to his campaign's internal polling” read the headline, and the by-line was the much respected name of Toby Harnden. “Romney is also three points up in New Hampshire” it continued. The source for these “exclusive” numbers was Romney pollster Neil Newhouse.
Harnden was so sure of himself that there was even an I-Told-You-So sub heading: “If the internal polls, which the Obama campaign scoffs at, are correct then Romney will almost certainly become the 45th President of the United States”. The article stressed that Gallup and Rasmussen also gave Romney a lead in Ohio. But then, both organisations are notorious for leaning right.
And yesterday, well before the polls closed, the Daily Kos burst the Mail’s bubble with the moderately unsubtle headline “Fake Romney internal numbers were fake”. The GOP challenger’s campaign admitted that the figures they had given Harnden were “incorrect”. And by last night, anyone who had been in any doubt could see that the Republicans had lost all four of those states.
Moreover, such was the scale of the win for Democrat incumbent Barack Obama that the only gains for the GOP were North Carolina and Indiana. So Romney avoided the 2008 ignominy of John McCain, who had taken less than 200 electoral college votes. So why did Harnden take the numbers on trust, and why did his paper report them in such a triumphalist manner?
Simples. Harnden is, deep down, a conservative. He wanted to believe that Romney could win. And the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre knows that, while the Mail can occasionally let non-whites become Their Kind Of People, the idea of having an African-American in the Top Job is anathema. The slimmest chance of the white guy winning must be talked up.
And so the world’s most visited newspaper website bought a total crock of crap.