Saturday, January 12, 2008


I like the Pats comfortably over the Jaguars, the Packers over the Seahawks, the Colts by not as much as many think over the Chargers, and the Giants, in a hunch, over Dallas.

My lock? Look for American political journalists to continue to humiliate themselves. Honestly, if those twits were covering sports, they'd be lucky to get high school field hockey as a beat. Our democracy has become the real toy department of the free press.

Predictions are chancy, but people like to read them. Everyone who covers sports makes them. Everyone has what appear to be blinding flashes of clairvoyance, and everyone makes some disastrous, fans-never-let-you-forget 'em blunders. But any sports reporter this side of a high school paper knows enough to acknowledge the possibility they'll be wrong WHILE making the prediction. This basic CYA procedure acknowledges the reality that a football (baseball, hockey puck, golf ball, etc.) takes funny bounces and that the gap between victory and defeat in sports is both narrow and mysterious.

Those acknowledgements inform the predictor's audience that he/she has actually studied the question and that he/she is aware of the fundamental realities of human existence. They're also why you never see sportswriters on "Hardball."

In modern political reporting, certitude is all. God forbid a pundit should put any qualifiers before their forecasts of the future. This is baffling, because those forecasts are inevitably all the same. They are straight-line projections. What is happening today is what will happen tomorrow, only more so. Then these same dimwits will knowingly cluck "a week is an eternity in politics." Why do they say that, since they clearly don't believe it?

The facts about the race for the Democratic presidential nomination: Two well-funded, popular candidates split the first two contests for an almost infinite number of reasons, and anybody who thinks they know what'll happen next is silly.

The story as presented was a wild melodrama in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reached deep into America's soul to reveal some pretty odd things about our racial and sexual attitudes, and where the Obama administration came into office for four days on the basis of notoriously unreliable New Hampshire opinion polls. When, as it always does, straight-line projection failed as a forecasting tool, political journalists were unabashed. It'd be way too hard to change their methods now.

Polls are tools. Tools are great, when you use 'em correctly. As used by the likes of Gwen Ifill and George Stephanopoulos, pre-election polls are akin to attempting to mow one's lawn with a chain saw. Things get cut down all right, but not the right things.

If possible, these savants are worse analysts than they are predictors. If there's one thing yours truly learned from Bill Belichick, it's what I call the "string theory of football" and by extension, all contests. It's all one. Every factor in a game, or election, is related to every other factor, and singling out any one element as the absolute explanation of victory or defeat is both meaningless and dangerously misleading. This is especially true in a 39-36 game, which happens to be the score of the New Hampshire primary.

Political analysts are, for some reason, not allowed to say, "you know, there are any number of reasons why Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama Tuesday." There has to be ONE reason, and by some amazing coincidence, that reason almost always relates to some topic on which the analyst has written extensively. If said analyst has published a book on U.S. politics, you can strike the "almost" from the last sentence.

Not that any do, but if the cream of the reporting crop reads this, they won't be mad, they'll be happy. Nothing bucks up political journalists more than criticism. They take it as a badge of pride. If the left hates us, and the right hates us, then by golly, we must getting things just right.

Circulation figures and Nielsen ratings offer a different interpretation. There is the possibility that, ideology aside, if everyone interested in the topic you're covering thinks you're doing a lousy job, you suck.


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