THE 23 PERCENT REFUTATION! To Broder, it was the greatest campaign. To us, it was the dumbest: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2008
Enforcing collective memory: Campaigns create our collective memory. So says UCSDs Samuel Popkin, quoted in this mornings Post by high insider Robert Kaiser. Indeed. As we read this mornings papers, we saw collective memorycampaign mythfloating all around.
We saw a memory being formed in this piece by the Posts Gene Robinson. There may be an explanation for the highlighted statementbut it doesnt appear in the piece:
Drama is heightened when pundits invent collective memories like this. But as we noted at the start of the year, insider pundits stood in line to urge Colin Powell to run in 1995 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/22/08). It may be that Robinson thought different back thenthought Powell could never succeed. His colleagues seemed to think different. But many are now inventing a memory in which this has been disappeared.
But then, your high insider pundit class mainly exists to craft novels. More than anything else, this is the odd mental trait we have chronicled down through the years here at THE DAILY HOWLER. (Endlessly, weve been amazed by this trait.) That said, another collective memory (media novel) is expressed at several points in Kaisers piecea piece which explores the predictive models by which academics forecast elections.
Maybe White House campaigns dont matter that much, Kaiser, a high insider, muses. Maybe the outcome is all in the stars! Kaisers report stars Alan Abramowitz, an Emory political science prof who has developed one of the models used to predict election results. And omigod! This model rocks! In truth, Kaiser plays the fool a tad as he pimps the Abramowitz model:
Omigood! How great is that predictive model! Kaiser marvels at the way Abramowitzs prediction matches the final Post-ABC poll. Of course, Kaiser hasnt selected just any old poll; out of a welter of national polls, he has carefully picked the one which most closely matches the model! A more disciplined mind might have waited a day; as of tomorrow, Kaiser could compare Abramowitzs prediction to the campaigns actual outcome! But your press corps doesnt function that wayespecially at its high end.
How close will Abramowitz come to predicting the outcome? Like Kaiser, we have no idea. But collective memory drenched Kaisers piece when he explained the one sad time when Abramowitz failed to deliver. Kaiser offers a time-honored explanation for the one time this model failed:
There we see a treasured memorya narrative on which the press corps insists. Candidate Gore ran a lousy campaign! That explains why he didnt win! A bit later on, Kaiser cites another giant who is singing the same sweet refrain:
Gore lost because of his lousy campaign! By way of contrast, Kevin Drum acknowledged, just last week, that everyone has now been convinced that Gore got waylaid by the press corps. But people like Kaiser dont seem real convinced; theyre still churning the Same Explanation for the fact that Bush ended up in the White House. Their story directs you away from what Kevin has said, thus serving the press corps interests.
Josh Marshall was pimping this tale in 2002. Robert Kaiser still pimps it today.
For the record, lets clean up a few minor details. On August 30, 2000, Abramowitz predicted that Gore would win 53.2 percent of the two-party vote. Two months later, Gore won 50.3 percent. (Gore got 50,999,897 votes, Bush 50,456,002.) As such, the predictive model overstated Gores performance by about three points. The question, then: Who lost those three points? Today, Kaiser says that Gore himself lost the three points because he ran a lousy campaign. He then feeds you Vavrecks view (if not her actual words); she has apparently said the same thing. He doesnt consider a different possibility; he doesnt consider the possibility that those three points disappeared because his colleagues ran a vicious, twenty-month war against Gore. Did Gore lose those three points to the press? Kaiser would die before asking.
Kevin says everyone is now convinced. FunnyKaiser seems to have missed the memo. He continues to do what his cohort does best. He continue to pimp their collective memory (their novel). In this novel, his colleagues did no wrong. It was Gore who screwed upbig-time.
As noted, Josh Marshall was feeding you this tale back in 2002, when he was still considering a career as a mainstream journalist. Kaiser still peddles this story today. In this piece, a high insider just keeps urging his cohorts collective memory upon you. And oh yes! Its too late now to tell the truth, Kevin has advised. (With apologies for the snark.)
One last point on Abramowitz and the spread of this potent Group Memory:
In 2006, Eric Boehlert published Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. At one point, he had the temerity to note the way the press corps pimped Candidate Bushand savaged Candidate Goreduring Campaign 2000. Todd Gitlin reviewed the book in The American Prospect. He included a few gruesome stats:
Numbers like that are a bit hard to interpret. But omigod! In the next months issue, a letter from Abramowitz made perhaps the most bizarre claim ever put into print. We cant begin to imagine why the Prospect would ever have printed such absolute nonsense. But at any rate, Abramowitzs letter ran beneath an unfortunate headline: Gitlin's claim about the Gore Internet story is greatly exaggerated:
We have no idea why the Prospect would have published such an utterly ludicrous claim. Just nineteen mentions in those ten months? Abramowitz must have been typing from Marsfrom an underground bunker there. The Prospect posted Gitlins reply. Sadly, Gitlins presentation was just as inept as the good professors:
In hapless fashion, neither Abramowitz nor Gitlin described the search terms used in their searches. Almost surely, the pair were comparing apples to hippopotamuses; almost surely, they had searched on different terms. But Abramowitzs claim was simply insane; it never should have gone into print. Just this morning, we searched the Washington Post, all by its lonesome, for the ten-month period in question, using a very narrow search term: Gore AND invented the Internet. That very narrow search produced seventeen hits in the Post alone! Many other references to this phony claim about Gore were missed by this narrow search term. (For the record, Gore was pounded by this claim for twenty months, not ten. The bogus claim was firmly in place in March 1999.)
Why did the Prospect publish such a nonsensical claim? We dont have the slightest idea. But a collective memory was reinforced in the professors ludicrous letter. And its important to say this again: Gitlins response didnt help matters much either.
Where did Abramowitz get that crazy statistic? We dont have the slightest idea. But in this way, a hapless, hackworthy pseudo-elite crams its memories into your heads. Kaiser repeats their Official Story todaythe story that is so self-serving, helpfully directing you away from the press corps own misconduct.
Did Al Gore run a lousy campaign? Or did the press corps massacre Gore? Everyones convinced of the latter, Drum says. But its too late to tell the truth now.
Sadly, of course, it isnt too late for Kaiser to cram your head full of memories. Collective memory was all around us in this mornings Post.
Real knowledge is thus wiped away: Then theres Bob Herbert, forgetting helpfully in this mornings Times:
According to Herbert, todays contest is probably the most important presidential election since World War II. Sorry, Bobthat election was already held. As the rest of your column helps explain, that election was held eight years agoand you clowned your way through it. Helpfully, Herbert forgets all that past conduct today.
Collective memory is thus established. Real knowledge is thus wiped away.
THE 23 PERCENT REFUTATION: In one of his oddest pieces ever, David Broder enthused about the current election in Sundays Outlook section. He finished this piece in the following way, gushing about all the drama:
This was the best campaign Broder has ever covered, the Pundit Dean exclaimed in this piece. And what were the terms of the Pundit Deans search? He praised the excitement, the dramathe show. In the course of all that gushing, he showed us what drives their world.
Eight years ago, Margaret Carlson revealed the same Versailles values when she blurted and blabbed to Imus. Late in the game in Campaign 2000, she explained why her cohort was trashing Goreand giving Bush such a large pass. Weve often cited this remarkable exchange (see THE DAILY HOWLER 8/23/02, for example). It truly defines their world:
As Carlson acknowledged, Gore had made minor factual errors; Bush was making major misstatements about major policy matters. Bushs misstatements were more consequential, she said. Why then were they savaging Goreand giving his opponent a pass? As sport, Gores misstatements were greatly entertaining. It was fun trashing Gore, Carlson said.
Broder expressed the same Versailles values as he praised the current campaign. For ourselves, we were surprised by his judgment. Just how great was this White House campaign? We thought of a sad, grotesque report which had emerged a few days earlier. Richard Dunham had done the reporting in the Houston Chronicle:
After two years of Broders exciting campaign, 23 percent of Texans were dragging this unvarnished bullsh*t around. (Give or take sampling error.)
Theres nothing surprising about that, of course. The American people are always misinformedand it isnt really the press corps fault. But the press corps almost always chooses to look awayto avert its gaze from the mayhem. As best we can tell from a Nexis search, neither the Post nor the New York Times ever mentioned that figure from Texas. Meanwhile, this greatest campaign came down to the wire with people shouting about Communism. You see, Obama wanted a top tax rate of 39 percentversus McCains 35.
Thirty-five? That was country first!
In our view, it would be hard to imagine a dumber campaign than the one were now concluding. But the Village runs on excitement and dramaon fun, entertainment. On sport.