The Iowa Reckoning: A Year’s Worth of Political Blather Told Us Precisely Nothing

Cross-posted on techPresident

Well, who was the big loser in the Iowa caucuses? It wasn’t Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton, and it certainly wasn’t Ron Paul. The big loser was political punditry.

Note that I did not say “political journalism,” even though I talked about the bandwidth limitations of traditional political reporting just a week ago. Political journalism was alive and well this season, particularly in reporter blogs such as The Trail at the Post and The Caucus at the Times. Many, many mainstream journalists did excellent work in Iowa, for instance by following local organizers or chronicling the amazing democratic spectacle of the caucuses themselves. Many nontraditional voices chimed in as well, including a few of us in the online political world, usually best focusing on some area of political communications or public policy in which we had a modicum of expertise.

What was revealed to be vapid and empty last night was the endless, often cable tv-driven spouting of impression and prediction — when did political talking heads suddenly gain the ability to accurately foretell the future? Most of ’em sure ain’t that good at it — Glenn Greenwald rounded up some particularly egregious examples of recent wrong-headed punditry today, and even a cursory stroll down memory lane turns up plenty more. Remember when Fred Thompson was going to change the race irrevocably? Or when John McCain was doomed and should just pack up and go home? When Obama’s young-voter strategy was a waste of time, ’cause the damn kids never show up to vote anyway?

Political pundits: please stop telling us what you THINK is going to happen, because in the world of online communications, you don’t actually know more than we do. We have access to the same polls, we read the same on-the-ground reporting and scroll through the same blogs and we can see every significant piece of video the same day. I may be just a random dude, but I still accurately picked the order of the top 3 Democratic candidates (missed #4 — my affection for Biden’s rough style got the best of me — and didn’t hazard a guess on the Repub side). And my opinion meant exactly nothing, because all that mattered was the actual vote in the actual caucuses. Absent some basso profondo voice speaking to me from a burning bush, my pick was worth precisely as much as the conventional wisdom about Hillary’s inevitability or Huckabee’s irrelevance.

The extra insight that political reporters provide almost always comes from actual reporting — gathering information that can only be picked up by someone at the right time and right place. Interviews, obscure documents, dogs that don’t bark in the night — these are what reporters can bring to light and thereby benefit us all. A concensus opinion arrived at over late-night drinks on the campaign trail? Interesting if it contains actual information or revelation, but too often it’s just group-think. And a public with access to an essentially infinite amount of information about candidates, campaigns and issues can arrive at opinions on our own, thank you very much. Pundits, please just shut up and surrender some airtime to actual journalism.


Written by
Colin Delany
View all articles