National Commentary

How Accurate Are The Pundits, Really?

bentonmug

There is a peculiar madness in the Washington, D.C. sphere which impulsively defines everything in terms of parties and politicians vying for power. Cheered on by those employed by the 24-hour news cycle, the politicians certainly do more than their part to perpetuate this grave error. Keeping it simple for the unwashed masses, our pundits and commentators report on the news in entertaining terms we can all understand – the terms of a sporting event.

There is a peculiar madness in the Washington, D.C. sphere which impulsively defines everything in terms of parties and politicians vying for power.

Cheered on by those employed by the 24-hour news cycle, the politicians certainly do more than their part to perpetuate this grave error. Keeping it simple for the unwashed masses, our pundits and commentators report on the news in entertaining terms we can all understand – the terms of a sporting event.

Everything is looked at from the standpoint of the next election. Even this far away from the 2012 presidential election, the Sunday morning talking heads can’t resist spending most of their time discussing their favorite fantasy game: Who’s Going to Be the Next President?

From their point of view, every political or economic development or even natural disaster has to be seen in terms of whose chances at the White House are affected and how. Frankly, it is more worthless than the scores of meat heads who occupy the sports talk shows to make their endless and almost never-correct predictions.

(While on the subject, I think that “sports” should be subsumed under the title of “entertainment,” which is what it is. Those macho athletes have more in common with Lady Gaga than anyone with a real job. However, since sports and political discourse are so closely linked, calling sports by its real name, “entertainment,” would puzzle too many citizens who think that those politicians who are tampering with their ability to get a job, or credit, or retirement benefits, or health care, are something more real than gyrating Lady Gagas themselves.)

It was pointed out recently that, with all the hot air expended on rehearsing the duds now in the field for the GOP nomination, at this stage in 1991, there was a field with a dozen-plus Democratic contenders. Way down at the bottom of the list, at only one percent in the polls, was Bill Clinton. How many were predicting Clinton would win at that stage?

As with sports pundits, so with political ones, all should be subject and held accountable to a measuring standard rating their percentage of correct predictions. Anyone who falls below 10 percent should be booted off the air. That would result a whole lot of job openings right away.

An interesting study of just this by a group of seniors at New York’s Hamilton College was reported earlier this month. Their paper was entitled, “Are Talking Heads Blowing Hot Air?” Their conclusion was this: of 56 total journalists, elected officials and political professionals included in the study, only nine could predict more accurately than a coin flip!

This was based on a study of television appearances and print columns during a 16-month period surrounding the 2008 election. Its results are instructive, and should get people thinking that maybe a rate of accuracy, and not just political or ideological slants, should have something to do with who we do, or don’t, pay attention to.

The rankings of individual pundits is not as important as the jaw-dropping overall outcome, that only nine of 56 predicted better than a coin toss. That would imply that 47 out of 56 pundits actually did worse than a chimpanzee, or a gerbil, could be expected to do.

According to the study, the commentator with the highest ranking for accuracy in his predictions was Paul Krugman of the New York Times. That makes sense, given that he has won the Nobel Prize for economics. He is not driven by partisan prejudice, because if his scientific studies caused him to affirm policies of a more conservative than liberal bent, he would be compelled to say so. Otherwise, he would be unable to back up his views with Nobel Award-worthy scientific data.
Krugman tops the list of the study’s “Good” predictors, in the company of other identified “liberals” or “very liberals,” including Maureen Dowd, Ed Rendell, Charles Shumer and Nancy Pelosi.

The middle “Bad” tier harbors Howard Wolfson, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, John Kerry and Bob Herbert, and the bottom “Ugly” tier includes George Will, Sam Donaldson, Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, Lindsey Graham and, at the very bottom, conservative columnist Cal Thomas.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*