Being Wrong Is Not Enough: How The Media Protects Conservative Punditry

The mainstream media is in the midst of yet another round of tut-tutting a pundit who isn’t a part of the club. Of course, it happens to be someone who made the right call. In 2008 Nate Silver crunched the numbers and determined that there was a high probability of Barack Obama winning the election. At the time, people like Republican-leaning pollster Scott Rasmussen pooh-poohed the idea of averaging polls in order to determine a result. Turns out, it’s a pretty good predictor of events.

But now that Nate Silver’s model has consistently seen a higher probability of Obama being re-elected, the media gang has decided to attack him. It’s worth noting that Silver’s model doesn’t indicate that there’s no chance of Mitt Romney being elected, just – based on his model – a lower probability than Obama. Also worth noting that none of these detractors made any noise when Silver forecast GOP gains in 2010. It’s almost as if Silver is making his analysis based on data, and not pandering to political forces.

Contrast this to Fox News pundit Dick Morris, who never gets anything right. Fox constantly pushes Morris – to the point where he offers tours of their studio to Republican donors – and rarely is it noted just how wrong Morris gets things while promoting the outside groups he stands to profit from.

Or you could compare the attacks thrown against pundits (and politicians like President Obama) who had the nerve to oppose invading and occupying Iraq. Compare it to people like Bill Kristol whose only real mea culpa for banging the war drums was a sheepish shrug on The Daily Show. Or Stephen Hayes, who wrote an entire book about “The Connection” between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that we all knew was b.s. at the time of its publication, but has been even further debunked by actual events. Is Hayes an outcast, a living joke? No, he’s Dick Cheney’s biographer and part of Fox News’ “All-Star” panel.

Conservative media does not subject its members to any sort of honesty tests. Instead, absolute nonsense is rewarded and stupidity is rewarded. The mainstream media, in response, is so afraid – so cowed – by the conservative press, that they never call out these bad actors. Why risk getting angry phone calls from Limbaugh listeners or pissed off comments from Drudge when its easier to just sit across and smile with the very wrong pundits at the next White House Correspondents Dinner (or similar event)?

A guy like Silver annoys this excrement-laden ecosystem. I don’t know him, but based on his writing I’ve constantly seen a strain of “I could be wrong” in his writing. He knows that the middle-of-the-road and liberal readerbase he’s built will likely burn him if he gets something very wrong. He could have gone the “unskewed” route in 2010 and tell liberals what they like to hear, but there isn’t a progressive tradition of elevating bull like there is on the right. There’s no incentive to make Morris-style predictions on the right. There’s no money in it.

The right doesn’t like it because it hurts their fact-free “Romney has momentum” narrative in favor of the more reality-based “slight edge to Obama” one. The mainstream media reacts badly to what upsets their right-wing abusers, and we get more crappy analysis and attacks masquerading as journalism.

(FYI, the title of this blog post is totally stolen from Paul Waldman’s book, which is a good read)

  • Kaleberg

    So, did the Soviet Union win the Cold War or the US? Youth wants to know.

  • Plunket

    Guess Who Declared Losing Candidates Lose Independents?

    In almost every competitive general election, the party that loses the contest has also lost independent voters. This is because most people (although less so in gubernatorial elections) vote strictly along party lines: the Democrat might be all but guaranteed 80 to 90 percent of the Democratic vote, and the Republican 80 to 90 percent of the Republican vote. Except in certain regions of the country where one or another party encompasses a particularly wide range of ideologies (such as NY-23′s Republicans or vestigial “Solid South” Democrats), it’s independents who swing the vote, since they represent the overwhelming majority of the votes which are up-for-grabs. This must necessarily be the case.

    Nate Silver, November 5, 2009

    Here are some totally irrelevant recent polling numbers:

    Romney lead among independents in NPR national poll: 51-39
    Romney lead among independents in CBS/New York Times national poll: 51-39
    Romney lead among independents in Pew national poll: 48-40
    Romney lead among independents in Fox News national poll: 46-39

    –Jim Geraghty

    For the love of God, please…….. leave Nate Silver alone!

    • oi ly

      Let’s pack it up folks, Romney won. That settles it.

      • db


        You remember the definition? An Independent is a Republican who’s ashamed to admit it.

    • oi ly

      Wait a minute, maybe it’s not over, quite yet –

      “But Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement was largely unexpected. For months, the Obama and Romney campaigns have sought the mayor’s endorsement, in large part because they believe he could influence independent voters around the country.”

      If I new how, I would underline the part about influencing indie voters.

  • Plunket

    Of laughter mostly.

    Bitter liberals clinging to Chris Christie, suddenly energized after a devastating storm, find it hard to hold back their glee.

    A lot to laugh about there for ya, huh, enlightened?

    • oi ly

      We’re mostly laughing at you, Dennis.

      • Plunket

        You guys don’t seem as happy as you were four years ago this time when the markets were nosediving, Oil Can. Seems there’s a little less exuberance with your glee this go-round. Why is that, financial crisis in the trillions vs a devastating storm of only around $50 billion give or take just not enough to warm your hearts?

        • oi ly

          Oh, Dennis, why are you all sixes and sevens of late? What’s really bothering you? Go on, we’ll listen.

  • oi ly
    • enlightened liberal

      That’s a great find…
      Mitt finding out that Chris Christie just isn’t into him any more. Brings a tear to my eye. Of laughter mostly. But what a sociopath Mitt is that he puts his relationship with a campaign supporter above Christie’s need to help the citizens of his state during a disaster.

  • Plunket

    Horribly disastrous news for fully 100% of the people who post comments here:

    Obama’s inauguration reverend: “All whites are going to hell”

    All white people are going to hell, longtime African-American civil rights advocate Rev. Joseph Lowery told an audience at a get-out-the-vote event held Oct. 27 in Georgia.

    Lowery, who gave the benediction at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, told the audience of up to 300 African-Americans “that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was,” according to an Oct. 31 report in the Monroe County Reporter newspaper.

    “I don’t know what kind of a n—– wouldn’t vote with a black man running,” Lowery also told the audience in the St. James Baptist Church in Forsyth, Ga., according to the Reporter.

    • oi ly

      Desperate Dennis, priceless.

    • oi ly

      The crazy liberal, Sean Hannity, gives Reverend Lowery the benefit of the doubt and believes it was a joke. Poor Dennis, trying so hard and flailing like a fish out of water at every turn. You’re not with Team Romney, are you?

  • enlightened liberal

    Even unskewed polls has Obama trending- he has narrowed a 13 point deficit to 4 in a week! Uh oh cons! Looks like four more years? Time to start scapegoating Mitt!

    • oi ly

      “Time to start scapegoating Mitt!”

      That’s alright, Mitt already has a front row seat to a bus’s under carriage.

  • enlightened liberal

    Uh oh- even the far right-wing Real Clear Politics has Obama trending, now in a tie from an average of polls. This along with a commanding lead in electoral votes.

    Americans see Obama’s response to Sandy, remember the Republican response to Katrina, and know that they want THIS President for four more years.

    • Plunket

      mericans see Obama’s response to Sandy, remember the Republican response to Katrina, and know that they want THIS President for four more years.

      Interesting comment from the cretin who once declared on this blog that he was glad to see Gulf Coast residents suffering the most economically from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill since they were the ones who voted for more drilling.

      • Plunket

        It’s truly amazing to witness how both natural disasters and man-made disasters give liberals like db, enlightened liberal and Oily the warm and fuzzies and just how much they brighten their spirits.

        • oi ly

          “Eight out of 10 likely voters have told a Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll that the president has done an “excellent” job of handling the aftermath of Sandy. Christie has echoed that view since Monday in every single TV appearance he has made.”

          That’s gotta sting so close to the finishing line and all …

          • enlightened liberal

            8 out of 10. Wow. Or we could get Mitt and he would hire the head of his dancing horse association to run FEMA.

        • oi ly

          That’s not at all accurate, Dennis. Bush was a man made disaster and I had no “warm and fuzzies” during his reign.

        • oi ly

          “It was kind of shocking to see Governor Christie over and over and over again, on show after show after show, heighten his love each time he went on a different show, for President Obama,” said Moore.

          • enlightened liberal

            Maybe he’ll cut a campaign commercial for the President. Of course President Obama wouldn’t be so crass as to ask.

  • enlightened liberal
    79% chance of the President winning re-election. That’s got to hurt. But then again, math has a well-known liberal bias. And Nate Silver is gay. Mitt will likely be swept into the dustbin of history Wednesday, and the belly’s of homeless children will continue to be empty as Frankie Di Sorrano welches on his bet.

  • oi ly

    The art of beauty –

    “I just want to tell all of you exactly what the president just said. I know he means it,” Christie said. “…”I want to thank the president for coming here today. It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much. We’re going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal. Thank you for coming, sir.”

    That’s gotta sting.

    • enlightened liberal

      Big difference from Katrina- competent President, working FEMA.
      Then again, Romney has offered support to the GOP Governors in the storm’s path, and he has offered canned goods. There is that.

  • SaveFarris

    Now generally speaking there are more Democrats thatn Republicans in a sample area. Even 15% more is not unreasonable.

    That’d be an acceptable spread if you were polling Hyde Park. Or the Upper East Side. But in 2008 in OH, during the biggest Dem turnout since FDR, we got D+5. Given the trends this year, anything more than … say D+2 would border on malpractice.

    A +15% Democrtatic sample does not equate to a +15% skew for president Obama.

    Well, that’s just because Obama’s a lousy candidate with no crossover appeal. But polling outfits are having to use that high a sample just to get the Obama+2/Obama+5 “results”.

    • db

      But that’s thge very point. Democrats & Republicans do not of necessity vote for their party’s candidate for President. The fact that FDR had a +15% margin is not at all relevant to the polling for President Obama or even the next term for President Roosevelt.

      You input based on the party identification split. Your output should measure how firm the committment to the candidate is. You’re confusing the results with the data sample.

      BTW I remember the figure Democrat 36% Republican 21% nationally so that’s why I chose the +15% figure. Those stats are several years old now & probably have changed but for example purposes they serve.

      Your paranoia is showing. As I said before Pollster Geeks are much more impressed by getting it “right”.They do not generally stump for a candidate (Rasmussen excepted but there’s no need to go into that now)

      • SaveFarris

        You’re confusing the results with the data sample.

        Not quite. I’m sure if you polled the commenters here, Obama would be running away with this election. Likewise, if all you polled was RedState, the results would be quite different. So getting a representative sample *IS* important. And some of these samples border on insane. (PPP’s latest in OH has a 45% D sample. Whatever you say, guys…)

        • oi ly

          “Not quite. I’m sure if you polled the commenters here, Obama would be running away with this election.”


        • db

          Sure, you need a representative sample. What is the breakdown of population by registration in Ohio? 45% is not as insane as you might think.

          But it goes back to the CM & the bubble. You live inside it & so what comes in from the outside seems bizarre & wrong.

          But do you want to put your money where your mouth is? Frank Di Salle is in at Romney 300 EV.

  • SaveFarris

    But now that Nate Silver’s model has consistently seen a higher probability of Obama being re-elected, the media gang has decided to attack him.

    Nice try Mr. Strawman, but Silver isn’t getting attacked simply for making an prediction for Obama. YOU’RE doing that and noone’s attacking you. It’s because Mr. “Numbers and Facts” Silver is ignoring inconvenient numbers and facts in order to make the numbers match his prediction. It’s very telling you don’t directly point to any criticism so that people can read for themselves that Silver’s model:

    — weights an “Obama is ahead” poll with a smaller sample heavier than a “Romney is ahead” poll with a larger sample.

    — weights an “Obama is ahead” poll that’s older heavier than a “Romney is ahead” poll that’s newer

    You don’t put your thumb on the scale like that if you’re really all about “making analysis based on data.”

    Also worth noting that none of these detractors made any noise when Silver forecast GOP gains in 2010.

    Also worth noting is that Silver predicted the GOP would only win 54.5 seats. They won 63, meaning Silver was off by 15%.

    as I understand it the CM complains that the polls are skewed because they poll more Democrats than Republicans.

    Your understanding is incorrect. The issue isn’t that they’re polling more Democrats than Republicans. The issue is that they’re polling more Democrats than actually voted in 2008, the largest “Blue” turnout in an generation. There’s noone in their right mind who thinks that Democrats are MORE fired up than 2008 while Republicans are simultaneously LESS fired up. There’s simply no data whatsoever to justify that. And yet, even though 2008 had a D+5 turnout, we see polls using a sample of D+7, D+9, D+15(!).

    • Christopher Foxx

      YOU’RE doing that and noone’s attacking you.

      Says Farris, attacking Oliver.

    • db

      But Farris,

      “The issue is that they’re polling more Democrats than actually voted.” is nonsensical. Some 69 million people (?) voted for President Obama?

      No, you poll a sample. That sample is broken down between Democrats, Republicans, Independents. White, Registered or Likely Voters. Black, Asian, Latino. Male, Female. You get the sample. Now generally speaking there are more Democrats thatn Republicans in a sample area. Even 15% more is not unreasonable.

      Your confusion comes in expecting that all Democrats will vote for President Obama while all Republicans will vote for WMR. A +15% Democrtatic sample does not equate to a +15% skew for president Obama.

      But the issue is explained better than I can do over at

  • Plunket

    Leave Nate Silver Alone!!!

    • oi ly

      “Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program.”

      “In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound.”

      That’s just swell, isn’t it?

      • Plunket

        “This is a tough time for a lot of people; millions of folks all across the Eastern Seaboard, but America’s tougher. And we’re tougher because we pull together, we leave nobody behind.“

        That was just swell, too, Oily.

        • oi ly

          Desperate times for the repubs!

          OMG Vegas!

        • Zython

          A Predident that cares about minorities really grinds your gears, huh, Dennis?

          • Plunket

            None of the four men the Predident left behind in Benghazi were minorities, Late and Clueless.

          • Zython

            Last time I checked, Benghazi isn’t on the eastern seaboard. He was talking about Hurricane Sandy.

            Do you even read what you write?

  • db

    Well Oliver,

    I think your argument breaks into two parts.

    1. Conservative Media (CM) is not based on explaining facts or providing news. They exist to make money be promoting a political ideology. You criticize them for not achieving something that isn’t a goal in the first place.

    2. The CM will assert cheerfully (& be echoed by out resident trolls) that the polls upon which Mr. Silver relies are skewed. They’ll even set up a web site designed to unskew the polls by making them show a more favorable result. Mr. Silver has addressed this issue much better than I can but as I understand it the CM complains that the polls are skewed because they poll more Democrats than Republicans. The CM ignores the fact that more voters call themselves Democrats than Republicans.

    To Political Science “polling geeks” getting it “right” i.e. having your polls be the most accurate is the goal. The CW, as I said before, has a different goal.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the traditional media is doing a cruddy job of pointing out the errors & inconsistencies of the CM. They are falling all over themselves to be fair that they’ve lost the concept that some positions just don’t deserve “fairness”.