More Post-Election Ethics: “Bias Makes You Stupid” Edition

Dewey Wins!

Dewey Wins!

1. Ugliest moment of election night: Trump’s assembled chanting “Lock her up!” as the electoral victory approached.

2. Anti-Trump bias made the entire journalism profession and punditry class incompetent, forming an almost impenetrable echo chamber that assured its smug occupants and Democrats that Hillary Clinton literally couldn’t lose. “Bias makes you stupid” is a frequent refrain here, and I cannot think of a more powerful example.

In a terrific if rueful article in Slate, Jim Newell writes of how the whole Democratic establishment convinced itself that Hillary couldn’t lose:

I think of the lawmakers, the consultants, the operatives, and—yes—the center-left media, and how everything said over the past few years leading up to this night was bullshit…Think of how wrong the entire national media conversation was—and yes, I contributed my fair share—about how the Republicans were being torn apart as a party. I prewrote a piece Tuesday afternoon, to be published in the event of the expected Clinton win, pushing back against both myself and other members of the media, arguing that Democrats and Republicans were both in existential trouble and that, in the short-term context of a decaying political system, Republicans might even have the edge…This was wrong. Republicans don’t have a slight edge over Democrats in a decaying political system. Republicans are ascendant.

The whole point of experts and analysts is that they use facts and objectivity to cut through rationalizations and bias. If they can’t or won’t do that, they are useless. They are frauds. Here’s the Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, who proves elsewhere in the essay, even as she writes about bias, that she is still a partisan to her core:

To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.They didn’t get that the huge, enthusiastic crowds at Donald Trump’s rallies would really translate into that many votes. …It would be too horrible. So, therefore, according to some kind of magical thinking, it couldn’t happen.

Journalists — college-educated, urban and, for the most part, liberal — are more likely than ever before to live and work in New York City and Washington, D.C., or on the West Coast. And although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or not seriously enough….We just kept checking our favorite prognosticating sites and feeling reassured, even though everyone knows that poll results are not votes.

The news media anti-Trump bias might have even lost Hillary the election, not just by outraging the public–it was so, so blatant–but by deceiving the Democrats. Clinton didn’t bother to campaign in Wisconsin, so convinced was she that voters there would blindly follow the party, as usual. The state was one of the big victories for Trump.

Yes, bias has made U.S. journalism incompetent, stupid, self-satisfied and useless. It will take more than one fiasco to reform it—if it can be reformed. I hope it can because democracy doesn’t function well with an untrustworthy newsmedia,

3. Nate Silver’s famed 538 website was embarrassed by Trump’s win after predicting the odds on a Clinton victory as about 2-1 and a final vote total near 300 for Hillary. He was still closer than anyone else, and right before the election was attacked in Vox and the Huffington Post for not showing how certain a Clinton victory would be. Wrote cocky partisan analyst Ryan Grim in the Huffington Post, accusing Silver of cooking the results (and receiving several obscene tweets in response by Silver, who weights the polls according to reliability ):

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Maybe Silver will be right come Election Day ― Trump will win Florida, and we’ll all be in for a very long night. Or our forecast will be right, she’ll win nationally by 5 or 6, and we can all turn in early. If he’s right, though, it was just a good guess ― a fortunate “trend line adjustment” ― not a mathematical forecast. If you want to put your faith in the numbers, you can relax. She’s got this.”

Yeah, she’s had it, all right.

4.  Part of ethical broadcast journalism is professionalism: you cannot allow personal feelings to interfere with your job. Apparently they don’t teach that any more in journalism school, and news shows don’t require it, or even recognize its importance. Martha Raddatz, who moderated a presidential debate, was so emotionally committed to Clinton being elected that she choked-up discussing the military oversight by a President Trump. Worse, arguably, was Rachel Maddow, serving as an anchor for MSNBC election coverage. She told her viewers…

“You’re awake by the way. You’re not having a terrible, terrible dream. Also you’re not dead and you haven’t gone to hell. This is your life now, this is our election now, this is us, this is our country – it’s real.”

No bias there! How can viewers trust such a reporter to give honest and objective analysis when she is that hostile to a news figure?

5. I was waiting for the “Hillary lost because she’s a woman” excuse, and it arrived via a usually professional and reliable pundit, NPR’s Cokie Roberts. Roberts, appearing as an election analyst on ABC, attributed Trump’s win in part to  “a strong sentiment about not having a woman president,” saying that there’s significant “hostility” to the idea, and that some of Trump’s upset “has to be attributed to the fact that Trump is running against a woman.” Yeah, that’s how Trump smoked 13 Republicans running against him in the primaries too: all those women. To really test this theory, Trump would have to run against a woman who was not corrupt, dishonest, venal, incompetent and venal.

I did not want Trump as my President, but I have to say that I will not mind having a President who can’t fall back on claiming prejudice every time he receives criticism. I don’t think there’s a “billionaire card” or a “narcissist card.” Is there?



33 thoughts on “More Post-Election Ethics: “Bias Makes You Stupid” Edition

  1. Perfect, and very demonstrated. Though I wish you had used the example of MSNBC dolefully asserting last night that Putin got Trump elected, and that now we would have to deal with ‘foreign governments participating in American elections.’ Really!

    Also, I would have put #5 as #4, however. I’m just waiting for the “she lost because she’s a woman” excuse to gain traction. Ridiculous, but it will. (For me, her totally phony ‘feminism’ should have been, might have been, at the root of at least part of her loss.)

    PS Your #1 was really awful. Trump did put a stop to it, though the die was cast, at least as far as Hillary supporters view Trump supporters…

  2. “I will not miss having a President who can’t fall back on claiming prejudice every time he receives criticism” I believe you meant “can”

  3. Actually, Trump will be able to claim that America has a systemic bias against Yam-Americans. Just look at what happened to John Beohner.

    That being said, it’s amazing how obvious all of this is in hindsight. Trump beat Clinton for the same reason Obama did: her arrogance, her tone-deaf elitism, and the Democratic machine creating an ‘inevitability’ echo chamber that blinded them all to what people really thought.

  4. Another thing that should be added is that the Left didn’t just play the gender card to excuse Hillary’s loss, they’ve played the gay card, the race card, and the Muslim card. I have taken to calling this the Liberal Flush. As always, lower-middle class and working class whites are being categorized as an entire bloc of racist, xenophobic, homophobic assholes when that only describes the loudest fringe of the Trump Coalition.

    • Isn’t it funny how when minorities vote as a block in their purported self- interest, it’s hunky dory and Democrats are all in favor of it. But when majorities vote as a block in their self interest, it’s despicable (or deplorable). Are majorities supposed to fight with one arm tied behind their backs or not counter-punch? They’re just supposed to shut up and take it.

      • If the Left could package a message that appealed to ALL of white America and locked that vote down solid at the cost of losing black votes, don’t think for a minute that the Left wouldn’t drop black voters like a lead balloon.

        But they won’t because “white” America hasn’t and probably will never be convinced that it has to think the same way.

  5. I thought Nate Silver did a great job. His trend line adjustments aren’t just guesses, they’re based on historical data about the polls, like almost everything else in his model. They could lead to bad results, but they’re not just guesses.

    As for the 2-to-1 odds favoring Hillary, at least once a week they would post something that very carefully explained that odds were just that, odds. A statement about statistical likelihood, not a guaranteed result, They discussed ways that their model could be wrong, and they repeatedly emphasized that even at better odds, Hillary did not in any way have this locked up.

  6. Now that the media completely misread this election due to their bias making them stupid, they will now begin explaining what it all means, this thing they got utterly wrong, and how we should proceed from here, this place that they told us we would never be. Who wants in on the NY Times death pool?

    • I saw a tweet that said something like: (I paraphrase) “notice how all the people who got it wrong before the election explaining why this couldn’t happen, are now expecting us to believe them as they explain why it did happen?”

      I find myself listening to / reading the media in a whole different way all of a sudden, given the proof the election gave of their feet (legs torso and head?) of clay, and wondering about how we actually can reliably gather facts and form opinions. For example Jack somehow knew the true timing and context of the “make Obama a one-term president” quote, and is able to put that information out there. I had heard reports of the quote in the wrong timing and context, and believed them (why wouldn’t I?) and was horrified by the quote — I learned the truth yesterday with Jack’s post. So how can I know true things in the future and not believe false things? I’vr started reading a broader array of news sources in the past several months than I used too, but I don’t find right-wing news to always be believable either.

      • I’ve thought for some time that there is a large market for a news media source that could just do news. Everyone seems to do “News and Analysis”, someone should drop the “Analysis”/opinion and watch the viewers and subscribers flock to them.
        The problem is, they just can’t help themselves. In something a simple as describing a perpetrator of a crime, information can be added or omitted to fit a biased narrative. It frequently has been in terrorist massacres, when the media reluctantly and finally gives up the obviously Islamic name and background of the terrorists, often after letting us know the name of their American high school, and omitting their summer trips to Uncle Ahmed’s Somalian terrorist training camps.

  7. Got another example for you. This is as bad as the complaint about ‘Trump 2016’ being a racist incident. Possibly worse.

    I’ve been avoiding telling my whining Facebook friends to grow up, the sky is not falling, but it’s getting harder and harder to tune out.

    • Sigh, so whiney California progressives in their disgust at the failure of the message to increase the power of the Central government suddenly want to exercise decentralized state’s rights?


      I hope they don’t get too thirsty over there.

    • The rural and conservative parts of California are already suffering enough. We need to evenly distribute progressives throughout the entire country. That way they can see exactly what is going on, not what they’re being told. It would be very hard on the “basket of deplorables,” but when you have the high ground you can afford to be noble.

      • Oh HELL no! We got enough refugees from liberal havens flowing into our good economy, but still bringing their dumb failed ideas with them! Cali can keep the cancer they allowed to grow in their midst.

        We have a hard enough time with the People’s Republic of Travis County (Austin, TX) trying to force their idea of politics on the rest of our state. Our cities are as blue as anywhere, but the rural and conservative strive each and every day to constrain them… as Cali should have.

        wyogranny, you owe me a keyboard… was drinking when I read your post.

  8. I’ve been told that this makes me a bit Pollyannish, but I am choosing to be proud of my country for its refusal to elect Hilary Clinton, rather than disappointed that it elected Donald Trump. Further, I am choosing to believe that any competent democratic candidate that had respect for the Constitution and for civility (I know there weren’t many, but what I saw of Mr. Webb made me think there was at least one) would have soundly destroyed Donald Trump.

    Note: What I know of Mr. Webb comes from exactly one debate. It’s possible I’m wrong about him too.

    I believe the silent majority of this country actually wants to get back to civility and ethics, but the evils of the two party system just won’t let them get there.

    • Being from Virginia, I can say that Webb would have made a decent president. Moderate, with military experience and a good head on his shoulders.

      Shame he got trampled in the rush to coronate Clinton, along with who knows how many other good Democrats who DIDN’T make it to the debates. I’ve always been of the suspicion that the Clinton machine bribed or intimidated a number of better candidates not to run.

        • You know, some physicists say that there is a theoretically infinite number of universes slightly different than our own, where things that never happened to us may happen, and things that happened to us may never happen. Perhaps in this infinitude of earths, there is one where the major parties did not purge their moderates, and things can actually get done.

          In this one universe out of millions, Jim Webb just got elected President.

  9. Jack,
    I don’t know that it gives her a pass, but Maddow (and most of her ilk) at MSNBC hosts her own news-themed opinion show. As far as I can tell, it’s not billed as a “news” show. What’s more, although they might still claim objectivity, all of their advertising and otherwise portrays the anchor in question as a pundit/social justice warrior.

    In other words: Are they objective? No. Do they pretend to be? Not really. As I said, I’m not saying that gets her (or any of them) off the hook, only that it’s far easier to know and course correct for their bias than someone who still tries (though not well) to play it straight (like Blitzer), I’d take someone like Maddow over Brian Williams any day.


  10. I can’t remember where I read this, but it seemed an excellent mini-analysis of some of what happened pre-election with the media.

    Roughly, it was ‘the media took Trump literally but not seriously. His supporters took Trump seriously but not literally.’

    I think I unconsciously played into this on more than one occasion — I’d hear the media (or whoever) going ballistic over something Trump had said and I would be thinking “Don’t they realize that’s not what he meant? I think his folks do.” I think he tends to speak in hyperboles and if you need to parse his meaning rather than the literal words.

    However that was the policy side, where there is a lot I can live with. It doesn’t apply to all the other stuff, which is a big reason that I ended up not casting a vote in the presidential race (any write in vote other than Jill Stein would have been discarded, so that wasn’t really an option).

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