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THE MARC OF THE BEAST! The Post’s Marc Fisher is better by far than the vile men he must cover: // link // print // previous // next //

PREDICTIONS’ END: Tomorrow, at least, they’ll stop their predicting! In yesterday’s Post, Washington’s giants showcased their sooth-saying skills once again in the “13th Biennial Crystal Ball Contest.” Yes, the Post dragged out the “experts” again, letting them forecast tomorrow’s elections. So you’ll know, here’s the way the Webb-Allen race will turn out:
There! At least that’s settled! What conclusion did we draw from this pair of predictions? At least one of these two people isn’t an expert! By the way: Note how the Republicans in the Post panel all pick Allen, while the lone Democrat goes with Webb. No, these folk can’t predict elections. But you can predict what they’ll predict!

Why do these people insist on predicting when it’s so clear that they don’t have this skill? We enjoyed a good solid chuckle on October 25, when Dana Milbank penned a profile of Charlie Cook, described as Washington’s “Prophet on the Potomac.” Milbank described the five-figure fees Charlie gets for his deathless predictions. The humor came when Dana admitted that Charlie isn’t “always on the mark.” According to Dana, Charlie “admits to having ‘tread marks on my forehead’ after understating the Republican gains in '94.” How far off was Charlie that year? For decency’s sake, Dana didn’t tattle. But if Charlie couldn’t even predict that event, why should we heed his predictions today? Uh-oh! Early on, Dana portrayed The Great Char-nac in action:
MILBANK: All [his clients] are looking for the same thing: next month's election returns. And Cook has them. "Senators Santorum in Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine in Ohio are pretty much done," he told the Piper audience at the Willard hotel. And the lifelines of Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) aren't looking any longer. "I'd be surprised if any of those four can survive," Cook informed the crowd of lobbyists, diplomats and journalists.
Uh-oh! In two of those four cases, Charlie may be “surprised” tomorrow. Indeed, in Dana’s final paragraph, the oracle was already rethinking Burns, based on brand new polling reports. "Burns might not be dead yet,” Charlie said—haven’t just been shown saying the opposite.

These people aren’t good at predictions! Yesterday morning, Mark Plotkin (like Charlie, a very nice guy) was playing the seer on Washington Journal—and he said that he’d thought, after August’s Nutmeg State primary, that Lieberman had no chance in the general! But if Mark was that clueless back in August, what makes him an expert again in November? Simple! Our big news orgs just luv wasting time—and predictions are a great way to do it.

How bad are these experts at making predictions? As you can see from yesterday’s Post, the winner of the 1998 Crystal Ball Contest was—let’s have a drum-roll, please—a group of tenth-graders from Montgomery Blair High! And they only won because chimps weren’t involved—and because the adults weren’t allowed to use coin-flips.

THE MARC OF THE BEAST: Ever since 1999, he’s been a scribe we luv to hate. But we thought Marc Fisher topped even himself in Sunday’s piece about the Allen-Webb contest. First, our analysts tore their hair when Fisher began with this daft but familiar “analysis:”

FISHER (11/5/06): In two days, Virginians get to choose between a guy who complains he's bored in the Senate ("It's too slow for me," George Allen said) and a challenger, Jim Webb, who says he's really first and foremost a writer.

In this wild, nasty and frightfully expensive campaign, we've learned way more than anyone ever wanted to know about what these two gents don't like: They're down on some combination of foreigners, blacks, women, Jews, Hollywood types, gays and sex. Oh, and each other—big-time.
In paragraph one, the critic modestly tells the world that unlike me, these guys are both bozos. But paragraph two is really the winner. According to Fisher, Allen and Webb “don’t like—are down on—some combination of foreigners, blacks, women, Jews, Hollywood types, gays and sex.” Of course, it’s Allen who—according to Current Official Pundit Assessments— is down on foreigners, blacks, Jews, Hollywood types, gays and sex. Webb is only down on women (based on a 27-year-old newspaper column). But so what? Fisher simply runs the two together, helping us see how hopelessly bad each of these two men are. Both men have “distasteful characters,” he tells us near the end of his piece.

You’d think it couldn’t get dumber than that—but trust us, Fisher is up to the challenge. Here’s his review of the “remarkably inept campaign” which Allen has supposedly run:
FISHER: Both have run remarkably inept campaigns, but they have done so in dramatically different fashion: In a survey by the National Journal of campaign professionals in both parties, Allen easily landed the No. 1 spot in both the Democratic and Republican lists of which candidate has conducted the worst campaign in the nation.

Let's review: macaca, the Confederate pin in Allen's high school yearbook photo, the Rebel flag in his house, the hangman's noose in his law office, his evident repulsion at the notion he might have Jewish ancestors, his decision to accompany his acknowledgment of those roots with a joke about having a ham sandwich for lunch, his alleged use of racial slurs. At one point, Allen had damaged his moderate bona fides so severely that the apologies he issued spurred the Sons of Confederate Veterans to whack him from the other direction.
What is wrong with Fisher’s review of the “remarkably inept campaign” Allen has run? Duh! Exactly half the offenses he lists in this passage weren’t committed as part of this campaign! Let’s review: Allen selected that “Confederate pin in his high school yearbook photo” in the spring of 1970! His “alleged use of racial slurs” also occurred in the 1970s. “The Rebel flag in his house, the hangman’s noose in his law office” also vastly predate this campaign. By most assessments, Allen has run an inept campaign. But is anyone more inept than Marc Fisher?

Meanwhile, what has made Webb’s campaign “remarkably inept?” (You know? The campaign which may produce a massive upset tomorrow?) Among other sins: “[Webb’s] son went off to combat in Iraq, and Webb declined to make that part of his campaign.” It’s hard to know why conduct like that would be “remarkably inept”—and not “high-minded,” for example. But in fact, Webb did seem to make his son’s service a part of his campaign. Here’s another of Fisher’s objection to these appalling men—men who are nowhere near as fine as he and the rest of his cohort:
FISHER: Both are big on guns and symbols of macho toughness: Allen campaigns in cowboy boots; Webb, in combat boots.
But as pundits have noted about ten thousand times, those “combat boots” in which Webb campaigns belong to Webb’s son, who is serving in Iraq. A cynic might say that Webb has worn them to make his son’s service a part of his campaign. A smarter pundit would ignore them altogether. Fisher, as always, finds a third way. He turns to the boots at an early point in his column—then seems not to know what they mean.

Of course ,we’re never far from costuming issues when we’re presented with Fisher’s typing. In late 1999, for example, the gentleman was deeply troubled—shaken to his soul—when Al Gore presented inappropriate raiment at his first debate with Bill Bradley. More than a month later, the half-witted Fisher was still quite disturbed. Try to believe that he wrote it:
FISHER (11/28/99): [W]hen Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book jackets, we have two choices: We can say Gore's a good man who's been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.

A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, "Okay."

To call him unreadable is to be charitable. [end of column]
For the record, Wolf was the type of “oddball” who had written three best-sellers, two of which had been selected as “New York Times Notable Books of the Year.” According to the Washington Times, her first book—The Beauty Myth—had been “named by the New York Times as one of the 70 most influential books of the century.” (We’ve never been able to confirm that statement, but Michael Rust included it in a profile of Wolf in November 1997—before the idiots of the Washington press corps decided to make Wolf an object lesson in their long, crackpot War Against Gore.) By the way: What made Gore’s deeply troubling suit “alien to virtually every American?” As Fisher noted, the garment was brown. And, oh yes! It had three buttons! These may seem like insignificant problems to you. But by the time Fisher’s piece appeared, the crackpot members of his cohort had railed against these matters for a good solid month. Al Gore doesn’t know who he is! they were all saying—so Fisher decided to type it up too. By way of contrast, Fisher did know his cohort’s scripts—and he was eager to type them.

Yes, this actually is the way George W. Bush ended up in the White House. Where do these idiots actually come from? Surely not from human stocks! Idiot then, idiot now. Marc Fisher’s an alien package.

KEEPING SCORE: Standard themes in Fisher’s piece:

  1. Unlike me, these guys both stink.
  2. Who could possibly tell them apart?
  3. Both these guys spent way too much.
  4. Presented without a hint of irony: They were both much too negative!