NBC's use of the Qube cable television system to measure the reactions of Columbus, Ohio, residents to the president's speech Sunday night eas criticized yesterday by the president of an association of polling organizations.
Albert H. Cantril, president of the National Council on Public Polls, chided NBC for giving the Qube report "a substantial portion of postspeech coverage" during a "a time of peak viewership," thereby conveying "the impression there were national implications.
"Such a survey cannot even be construed as a measure of sentiment even in Columbus," said Cantril, pointing out that only Columbus cable subscribers who were watching the right channel and decided to participate in the survey expressed their views.
NBC responded yesterday by pointing out that viewers were told that the survey was "not a scientifically based representation" of public opinion. "Prime Time Sunday" anchorman Tom Snyder and correspondent Jack Perkins also used the phrase "man in the street" to describe what was taking place, said "Prime Time Sunday" producer Paul Friedman.
The use of "man in the street" was suggested by Roy Wetzel, general manager of elections and polling at NBC News, who initially had "severe reservations" about NBC's use of the Qube system, said Friedman.
Wetzel acknowledged yesterday that he expressed reservations, but he thought the experiment "was worth trying once with sufficient caveats." He said it was impossible to assess whether the caveats were sufficient, but he thought "'man on the street' automatically conveys the image of a nonscientific survey."
NBC correspondent Perkins also pointed out to the viewing audience that poor people were not likely to subscribe to cable TV at $10 a month, and Friedman says that any questions that might have been skewed by the financial status of cable subscribers - such as "are you willing to pay more for gas?" - were eliminated.
Cantril conceded that NBC inserted caveats about the nonscientific nature of the experiment, but he said the disclaimer was diluted "with the assertion immediately following that it was 'an electronic poll,' a distinction undoubtedly lost on most of its viewers."
Friedman's response: "We give the American public more credit for intelligence."