Super-statistician Nate Silver has done an extensive analysis of the burning journalistic question of our time: How did the media miss the Trump story? How did the media not see that Trump could win?
And yet, complacency sometimes has a cost. Sometimes groupthink blinds you to the facts. The media assurance of an inevitable Hillary victory seems to have contributed to the Hillary loss. Apparently, the leftist media persuaded the Clinton campaign that it could not lose. The Clinton campaign acted as though this were true. To their and to the media’s chagrin.
Silver does not mention the following point, so I will. The media is not just suffering from groupthink, but they live in a Hegelian world where the movement of the World Spirit inevitably produces the outcomes that it wishes. The groupthinkers did not just believe that they were right. They believed that they were riding the wave of history and that nothing could go wrong. They took it on faith, not on fact.
Their motto: never let a fact disturb your beliefs. They did not need to know what was going on in Wisconsin or even Pennsylvania because the outcome was predetermined. Hegel had taught them that they could not lose. Now, they rail hysterically when Trump plays loose with the facts. They would do better to ask whether Trump became president because they themselves bought into a belief system that was impervious to fact.
Silver suggests that journalists are living in a bubble. No one has doubted that mainstream journalists reject diversity of opinion. They have been steeped in the dogmas of critical theory and deconstruction. They have learned that communication is about propaganda, not information. They provide enough facts to make their theories plausible and ignore the rest.
Now, a few words from Nate Silver.
First, the New York Times was convinced that Hillary could not lose:
Much of The New York Times’s coverage, for instance, implied that Clinton’s odds were close to 100 percent. In an article on Oct. 17 — more than three weeks before Election Day — they portrayed the race as being effectively over, the only question being whether Clinton should seek a landslide or instead assist down-ballot Democrats…
One must note, because Silver himself is too nice to say so, but anyone who offers a deviant opinion is quickly shunned by the group. His or her career prospects will quickly go down in flames. The same applies in the American university system. It is not an accident that everything thinks the same thoughts:
… political experts4 aren’t a very diverse group and tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of other experts and other members of the political establishment. Once a consensus view is established, it tends to reinforce itself until and unless there’s very compelling evidence for the contrary position. Social media, especially Twitter, can amplify the groupthink further. It can be an echo chamber.
The political diversity of journalists is not very strong, either. As of 2013, only 7 percent of them identified as Republicans (although only 28 percent called themselves Democrats with the majority saying they were independents). And although it’s not a perfect approximation — in most newsrooms, the people who issue endorsements are not the same as the ones who do reporting — there’s reason to think that the industry was particularly out of sync with Trump.
But since at least the days of “The Boys on the Bus,” political journalism has suffered from a pack mentality. Events such as conventions and debates literally gather thousands of journalists together in the same room; attend one of these events, and you can almost smell the conventional wisdom being manufactured in real time.
Silver points out that the mainstream media is now garnering an increasingly large share of everyone’s attention. Fewer people are reading blogs and more people are reading the major outlets:
The share of total exposure8 for the top five news sources9 climbed from roughly 25 percent a decade ago to around 35 percent last year, and has spiked to above 40 percent so far in 2017. While not a perfect measure10, this is one sign the digital age hasn’t necessarily democratized the news media. Instead, the most notable difference in Memeorandum sources between 2007 and 2017 is the decline of independent blogs; many of the most popular ones from the late ’aughts either folded or (like FiveThirtyEight) were bought by larger news organizations. Thus, blogs and local newspapers — two of the better checks on Northeast Corridor conventional wisdom run amok — have both had less of a say in the conversation.
Silver recommends that journalists go back to doing journalism. But, given what they learned in college, can they easily allow the facts, not their opinions, to drive their reporting?A bad habit is difficult to break.
In his words:
Journalists should recalibrate themselves to be more skeptical of the consensus of their peers. That’s because a position that seems to have deep backing from the evidence may really just be a reflection from the echo chamber. You should be looking toward how much evidence there is for a particular position as opposed to how many people hold that position: Having 20 independent pieces of evidence that mostly point in the same direction might indeed reflect a powerful consensus, while having 20 like-minded people citing the same warmed-over evidence is much less powerful. Obviously this can be taken too far and in most fields, it’s foolish (and annoying) to constantly doubt the market or consensus view. But in a case like politics where the conventional wisdom can congeal so quickly — and yet has so often been wrong — a certain amount of contrarianism can go a long way.