NBC "Unskews" Its Poll Numbers, Gives Up on Respectabilty

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Chez Pazienza
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By Chez Pazienza: For some time now, I've been making the argument that claims of a liberal media bias -- at least insofar as what's actually produced by most American news outlets -- amount to a bunch of nonsense. The reason for this is simple: The right has created such a magnificently run cottage industry out of hectoring news operations for supposedly being a bunch of pointy-headed, overeducated elitists -- making them, by their very nature, anti-conservative -- and it's done it for so long that most newsrooms now preemptively police themselves in an effort to ward off any potential criticism from the right. It's of course a losing game, because the reality is that no amount of self-censoring or general bending over backwards will make media critics on the right happy since the stories of the liberal media boogeyman are now an article of faith for conservatives; they need that boogeyman to justify their willingness to deny any reality that threatens to pop the epistemic bubble that keeps them safe. It's imperative for the right to retain the ability to dismiss out of hand any news that makes it mad as being the work of political enemies who can't under any circumstances be trusted.

And so what happens is, in an effort to appease a political faction that will never be appeased, otherwise honest and dedicated journalistic outlets edit themselves to the point where they wind up overcompensating. I've worked in enough newsrooms to have been able to see it happen many, many times: a manager goes over your work with a fine-tooth comb to look for any potential instances of "political bias" and eventually you become trained to self-edit. In the end, the truth suffers; it's sacrificed on the altar of an insidious brand of political correctness aimed at keeping a bunch of remedial-class bullies off everyone's backs. This is why so many news outlets these days ignore facts in favor of pushing the idea that there are two political sides to every story and that each deserves equal consideration. It's the illusion of objectivity, something more inherently "fair" than those pesky facts.

Usually, most news operations don't come right out and admit that they do this sort of thing; it's an MO that's unspoken specifically to allow for plausible deniability. But when it comes to being willing to publicly wallow in its own hackiness, NBC has proven over the past few years that it's not most news operations. Hence, we get this: NBC News, anticipating the backlash from conservatives who don't like math that doesn't add up to a win for their candidate, is preventatively "unskewing" its most recent poll which shows Barack Obama ahead in several key swing states. For those blissfully unfamiliar with the ridiculous notion of "unskewing," it's been one of this election season's most comical conceits, a touchstone of the American political culture, circa 2012, that's sure to be remembered with the same kind of fondness-loathing as, say, the 2000 election's hanging chads and 2008's Palin onslaught.

"Unskewed Polls" is the brainchild of Dean Chambers, a guy without a shred of a background in math or polling, who decided that since most of the poll numbers as they were showed President Obama in the lead -- and we all know that we're currently in the midst of the Obama Depression and, besides, he's a Marxist, fascist, Kenyan usurper who bungled Benghazi and who drinks the blood of Christian children -- there had to be something wrong with them. And so Chambers "unskewed" the polls by basically pulling numbers directly out of his ass that assured a sweeping Romney victory, wrote them down and then said, "There -- that's better." As Gawker's Mobutu Sese Seko put it so beautifully, Chambers's system is the equivalent of a kid turning an F into an A by drawing an extra line down the right side of it.

And NBC, one of the largest news operations on the planet, is pandering to him and the relentlessly stupid people who actually take him seriously. It's purposely lowering the bar so that the short bus kid can jump over it. It's literally altering reality to make it more, again, "fair." And it's every fucking thing that's wrong with modern political journalism and, actually, journalism in general. Unskewing polls is the political equivalent of ebonics.

Understand, there's nothing wrong with questioning the sampling on the various political polls that we're expected to take as gospel. But when there's no real math behind the adjustment, simply an indiscriminate calculation made for the sole purpose of trying to salve the wounds of those who won't like what the real math has to say, it's unbecoming of a responsible news organization to even entertain the idea. NBC News Senior Political Editor Mark Murray, however, is defending the network's decision to provide conservatives with a rosier alternative to the poll results that show Mitt Romney being beat tomorrow. He says that despite his willingness to imagine a scenario in which the Democratic party advantage was halved and Romney stood a better chance of winning, "the numbers are the numbers and we stand behind them." Think about how thoroughly, hilariously crazy that is: He's admitting that the math adds up and there's nothing wrong with the poll, he just chose to adjust it anyway in the name of the illusion of objectivity that most mainstream news departments are slavishly devoted to.

If you watch a lot of Fox News, there's no way you can imagine an Obama victory tomorrow. It's simply impossible. Not with all we know about this president's incompetence, laziness, lack of belief in the Christian god, willingness to undermine and overthrow capitalism at every turn in favor of socialism, etc. Dick Morris says it's going to be Romney in a landslide. Steve Doocy can barely keep the semen spot from appearing in the crotch of his suit pants every time he mentions Romney's name. Fox News broadcasts an alternate reality from a parallel universe in which up is down, inside is out, black is, well, still very black -- and always suspect. It exists solely to reinforce the epistemic bubble so many conservatives exist inside and I can only imagine what's going to happen -- the madness that's going to flow forth -- if that bubble is popped tomorrow. You think Obama is considered illegitimate by the right now? Wait til you see what happens when every article of faith Fox News has been feeding its audience about Barack Obama and his chances are proven false.

But that kind of nonsense is what we've come to expect from Fox. We expect it to twist reality into a pretzel and then hold the whole thing up to a funhouse mirror. Legitimate news organizations like NBC are supposed to know better. They're supposed to rely on facts. What they're not supposed to do is adopt the same Orwellian political polling newspeak that keeps so many of Fox News's people in the dark simply because they choose to be there because it makes them feel better.

When a cartoonish curiosity like Dean Chambers, a guy who stands as the living embodiment of the right's ongoing hatred of intellectualism, can have an impact on how NBC News reports on the presidential election, we're in very deep trouble.

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