Thursday, November 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Media In Tantrums

Many in the establishment media, having got 2016 wrong,
now are indulging themselves in an orgy of preemptive
rationalization of what happened on November 8, 2016. It
reminds me of a children’s temper tantrums.

Among their proclamations, they are contending that the polls
were not wrong, that the 2016 results are not a political
realignment, and everyone but the nominee herself was
responsible for Hillary Clinton’s epic loss.They have also
promoted a campaign of false information to attack one of
the new president’s first appointees.

As one of the few national journalists who got 2016 mostly
right, I have some contrary views to these assertions.

In early 2015, I wrote that then-presumptive Democratic
nominee Clinton was a poor candidate and a potential disaster.
I suggested that after two terms of President Obama, the U.S.
electorate was inclined to elect a Republican. Later in 2015,
however, I did not see either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump
emerging in their nomination contests, and only after Mr. Trump
kept upsetting predictions in early 2016, did I realize that he
would be nominated and could even win the presidency. I then
put forward the notion of a “mutiny of the masses” as the
explanation of Mr. Trump’s rise. These “left-out” Americans,
many (but not all) of them blue collar workers,  including
previously secure Democratic voters, were rising up against
the political establishments of both parties. In the face of an
unprecedented intrusion of bias into news reporting about the
presidential contest, I suggested that there was a “media coup
” Thanks to frequent citations by Newt Gingrich and
others, this went viral over the internet and the national news
radio and TV networks.

Now, in the aftermath of this extraordinary election, many of
those who got it wrong, I think, continue to misread the results.

I say again most polls were wrong. In some cases, they were
very wrong, but in other cases their final numbers were “within
the margin of error” so their apologists are claiming that they
were, in fact, accurate. I make this point: polls are not facts;
they are indications of what is going to happen. It was based on
these polls that most pundits predicted a Clinton victory. The
fact that they were “within the so-called margin of error” does
not take them off the hook. In 2012, most final polls indicated
that Mitt Romney was going to win. He lost. Most polls indicated
(many albeit within the margin of error) that Brexit would fail.
If polls give the wrong signal, and the public is led to  the wrong
conclusion because of that signal, then I suggest the polls were
wrong. No complicated arguments about margins of error and
mathematical nuances can fix this fact. Why were they wrong?
They were wrong because most of the polls made incorrect
assumptions about who would turn out to vote in their arbitrary
“weighing” of the raw polls results. Those few polls which got
the results right were regarded by most pundits as “outliers”
and likely wrong because they did not “weigh” their data as
the polling establishment did. It turns out that the outliers were
notably more accurate in 2016.

There was a small group of us who suggested that the polls
were wrong because the “mutineers” --- alienated from the
political and polling establishments --- were not being accurately
measured. Just before the election , a number of pundits
confidently predicted these “silent” voters did not exist, or if
they did, there were as many of them who would vote for Mrs.
Clinton as would vote for Mr. Trump. Notably, liberal pollster
Nate Silver commented uneasily just before the election that he
saw an unusually large number of “undecided” voters in the
final polls, but he concluded that Mrs. Clinton would likely win
anyway. To his credit, Silver forcefully rejected those polls which
gave Mrs. Clinton a huge margin, but in the end he proposed
three possible outcomes --- Clinton winning by a landslide,
Clinton winning by a smaller margin or Trump winning by a
narrow margin. Those, of course, were obvious outcomes, but
Silver opted for Clinton as his last call, and thus did not repeat his
success in 2012.

The New York Times, one of the charter members of the media
coup d’etat, has now more or less apologized through its
publisher, and promises to do better next time. (Let’s see if that
promise is any more reliable than those made by most
politicians.)  Most of the other major media outlets have not yet
even indirectly and publicly owned up to their improper news
coverage of the campaign, but readers and audiences already
know they got it wrong. I have stressed that editorial journalists
did nothing improper since they were understood to be expressing
their opinions and not offering news, Nonetheless, several
prominent op ed writers on both the left and the right went
overboard in their denunciations of the man who is now the
president-elect. Let’s see if they now give Donald Trump a fair

Beware of any more smug conclusions from pundits, especially
those who got 2016 wrong. In 2020 they might be right again, but
it won’t happen by interpreting 2016 wrong after the fact as much
as they did before the fact.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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