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WHAT HAPPENED! Why did folks finally get mad at Chris? We have no idea: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 11, 2008

TYPING THEIR NOVELS: Yesterday, Hillary Clinton went door-to-door in a Las Vegas neighborhood. “Reporting” on this monumental event, Jennifer Steinhauer worked on her novel. Go ahead—enjoy a good laugh. An editor waved this into print:

STEINHAUER (1/11/08): Both events, clearly intended to tap into Clark County's large Hispanic population, stood in stark contrast to Mrs. Clinton's last visit to Nevada, when she gave a stump speech from a stage far from supporters in a nature preserve and then departed majestically whence she came.

It’s true—that one inane phrase won’t change world history. But multiply it ten thousand times, year after year. That’s how our political discourse gets turned into novels—into pure dim-witted “narrative.”

Of course, Times reporters have been typing these novels for many years now. In the fall of 1999, Candidate Gore went door-to-door in a New Hampshire neighborhood; he too was trying to make himself more available to voters. And needless to say, Katherine “Kit” Seelye wanted to help us see what a big, phony fraud it all was. Result? When Gore spoke with Iris and Tom Mulligan that day, “Kit” knew just how she should play it.

We described this groaning incident last year (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/14/07). That very night, the press corps “jeered,” “howled” and “laughed at” Gore during that campaign’s first Dem debate. And of course, they complained, long and loud, about the fake, phony way he stayed late to answer more questions.

How dare a hopeful take questions from citizens? Making reporters stay even later! When the World Series is on!

People like Steinhauer are too dumb to breathe. They’re also too arrogant—too anti-American. They insist on typing their sad, inane novels—on telling you who you should vote for.

FINAL NOTES ON THE BRADLEY EFFECT: In today’s column, Gene Robinson takes a serious, middle path on the question of the “Bradley effect.” He’s a skeptic when it comes to this week’s primary; “it's impossible to diagnose the Bradley effect with any confidence,” he writes. (We agree.) But he also says that “after Tuesday's big surprise, embarrassed pollsters and pundits had better be vigilant for signs that the Bradley effect, unseen in recent years, has crept back.”

We’re not quite sure why he said that. But it made us feel good at the end.

What happened in last Tuesday’s polling mishap? We have no idea. But because issues of race are so important, we thought we’d share a few last thoughts about the “Bradley effect,” thoughts derived from Robinson’s column.

The unmentioned: At one point, Robinson calls Tuesday’s outcome “weird.” He fails to mention an obvious fact; the polls were “wrong” by a similar amount in New Hampshire’s 2000 Republican primary. (The Bush-McCain contest, which featured two white guys.) New Hampshire specialist Jennifer Donahue mentioned this on MSNBC Wednesday morning. Next time, she may as well save her breath. We’ve seen no one else mention that race, though it provides basic context.

The unread: Robinson mentions elections involving David Dinkins, Doug Wilder and Harvey Gantt, as well as the 1982 Tom Bradley race. Then, he offers a slightly surprising view about what happened in those races. Robinson seems to reject the presence of the “Bradley effect,” even in those famous races. But his own somewhat vague explanation doesn’t capture what happened in the Dinkins race, according to Andrew Kohut, who polled the race for the AP, then studied it later. Yesterday, Kohut gave a detailed explanation of what occurred; he did so in the New York Times, a rather famous American paper. Was Kohut right? Was Kohut wrong? There’s no sign that Robinson read him.

The unchallenged: At one point, Robinson describes an “anomaly” from Tuesday’s results: exit polling indicated that “last-minute deciders broke equally for Clinton and Obama—which pretty clearly was not the case.” Robinson’s statement is technically accurate, but perhaps a bit misleading; he fails to note the possibility that the exit polls were just flat-out wrong. On Wednesday’s Hardball, Donahue described haphazard exit polling. (“I saw the kids polling people coming out of the booths. They were all over the place. They were like people handing out flyers, Chris. They were not organized, they were not disciplined. They were not professionals, they were not experts. I think these exit polls are a bit misleading.”) Given events of the past eight years, you’d think we’d all recognize by now that exit polls can just be wrong. Though what he says is technically accurate, Robinson skips past this problem.

(On that same Hardball, Roger Simon offered “one other caveat. If the exit polls got the result wrong, why did they get the demographics right? The fact is we don’t know how many women voted for Hillary, and we don’t know how late deciders voted for Barack.” We think Simon made an excellent point. For some reason, we often act as if exit poll data come to us directly from God. According to Donahue, this week’s data may have come from a slapdash operation.)

The unclarified: Please note: Even if we reject the “Bradley effect” (as Robinson seems to do), we aren’t rejecting the idea that some people vote according to race. The Bradley effect concerns lying to pollsters; even if everyone told pollsters the truth back in 1982, that doesn’t mean that people didn’t vote against Tom Bradley due to his race. But at one point, Robinson seems to obscure this distinction; he says there was no “Bradley effect” in the 2006 Tennessee senate race, then cites an upbeat conclusion from Pew. ("[F]ewer people are making judgments about candidates based solely, or even mostly, on race itself.") Is that true? We have no idea. But the fact that Tennesseans didn’t lie to voters doesn’t mean they didn’t vote by race. The two issues are separate.

Race matters, very deeply. In part for that reason, we’re inclined to write stirring novels about it. We sometimes do so in educational contexts—and sometimes, in presidential campaigns. Because race matters, very deeply, we ought to be careful about the way we judge the events of this week.

Final note: When people write stirring novels about race in education, they often make themselves sound heroic—but who ends up getting left behind if their stirring stories are bogus? We’ve been there, and therefore know the answer: Black kids get left behind at such times. When people reach pleasing conclusions which are false or irrelevant, we’re kept from trying to find the real answers. It’s black kids who get the shaft in this process. We say this because these kids matter.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEKEND: Sorry. We’d planned to name Rachel Maddow our Human Being of the Year. Last Tuesday night, she did something unheard of; she went on cable and didn’t self-edit! (Note to Peter Fenn: Please check Rachel’s tape, in which she doesn’t pretend it was Fox.) But we got interrupted, and we ran out of time. We’ll name her Top Human next week.

Also, why did so many average voters get ticked off by Chris Matthews’ conduct this week? He’s been gender-trashing Clinton for the past year. For that reason, we have no idea.