Hypocritic over Hippocratic? Why Don’t Journalists Strive to “Do No Harm”?

A “new poll” using old methodological flaws has been unveiled purporting to express the
opinions of Native Americans. In this case, it is a Washington Post poll that asked people
claiming to be Native their views about the use of the term “Redskins” for an NFL team. The poll quickly made the rounds of news shows, blogs, and radio. In almost all cases, the spin was that the fight against the term is based on the opinions of a bunch of overly sensitive, PC activists who are not representative of the true will of the Native people. In less well circulated news, Native leaders, blogs and Native newspapers forcefully came out against the poll, pointing out the huge methodological flaws in the sampling, etc. In other words, the Washington Post provided biased ammunition to insure an unfair fight in the court of public opinion. Click link to view poll.

Words from Billy Mills to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-poll-doesnt-give-a-team-the-right-to-use-an-offensive-name/2016/05/23/cea512f2-1ea3-11e6-82c2-a7dcb313287d_story.html

Indian Country Today Media Network’s response:


Twitter Poll by a dear friend, Vincent Schilling, of ICTMN: @VinceSchilling


At first, my reaction was a mixture of anger and acquiescence. I mean, when do Native issues get fair treatment in the mainstream press? Unfortunately, you get used to it if you are Native. Just like you get used to talking heads on “news” shows misrepresenting statistics on racial differences in poverty, disease, unemployment, etc. in advocacy for their own agenda as opposed to the truth and justice for all (see previous blog Justice or Just Us).

My second reaction was to do a bigger and better poll of Native people who are enrolled,
affiliated, and part of a tribe, rather than just letting anyone with a Cherokee Princess
grandmother say they are Indian for a pollster’s phone call. But, a quick discussion with a
research psychologist about how difficult and precise a true representative sample for such a survey would need to be in order to be valid makes the implementing a good survey more technical than I have the means. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just because I can, I’m still going to do one by the way. I would just be more careful than the Washington Post when I ask people to draw conclusions but yet, try to stick to “their format.” I am passionate, but the reckless passion of a zealot seldom drives the point home, does it?


Picture Cred: @luta_d

I couldn’t do much worse, though. And I could probably do better in terms of a broader sample of Native Americans. Their poll used people who said they were Native in a broader sample of people being asked a bunch of unrelated questions. Yet, SOMEHOW, they got 90% of an AMERICAN convenience sample to agree to something. I mean, that is an accomplishment in itself. How can you get 90% of ANYONE in the U.S. to agree to anything (90% of people can’t even agree that kitten videos are cute for heaven’s sake!). But, I could at least target a larger sample of Natives in an attempt to more accurately portray their responses. But, that will be another blog…stay tuned!

It’s Not the Data, It’s its Interpretation:

I am not, by the way, targeting the pollsters as much as the reporters. Data is data, another thing the research psychologist reminded me. I am calling out the editors. What the reporters did not do was explain the limitations of the sample, or the telephone methodology, and urge caution about interpreting the data. Silly wabbits. It is all in the spin, as they say. Or maybe, there’s a simpler answer: confirmation bias.



For now, I simply ask “Who Cares?” Who cares if 90% of any group is for or against a document-ably racist name for an NFL team…even if they were a winning team? This is not a vote. It is an issue of right and wrong. The tyranny of the masses has no place when the issues are moral. It is just not the right thing to do. Given the history of the name and its traditional use, given the fact that it is derived from and reference to actual (not perceived) trauma still manifesting itself negatively in an entire race of people, and given that it is objectively offensive if you know what it actually means, is using the term in polite company the right thing to do? It really is that simple, don’t you think?


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