Political Animal


November 14, 2012 9:29 AM The Breathlessly Inevitable Result

By Ed Kilgore

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan makes a good point about the pre- and post-election CWs:

The media has undergone a strange change of mindset. Immediately before last Tuesday’s election, many reporters and commentators ignored or dismissed the consensus among forecasters and betting markets that President Obama was very likely to defeat Mitt Romney and acted instead as if the candidates were neck and neck or Romney was ahead. Afterward, however, coverage of how Obama won betrayed far less uncertainty about the outcome of the election, which was frequently portrayed as a fait accompli—an inevitable consequence of how Romney’s image was defined by Obama’s early ads or overwhelmed by the President’s superior ground game.

The shift from “anything can happen” to “Romney never had a chance” was obviously in the interest of Romney campaign personalities, who would prefer to appear as having fought a hopeless, uphill battle rather than blowing a lead or losing “momentum.” But “hindsight bias,” says Nyhan, affects a lot of political journalism. What connects the pre- and post-election accounts we are reading is the persistent belief in campaign events as crucial: it’s not the “fundamentals” of external forces (e.g., the economy) or party ID that matter, but debates, ads and long-planned GOTV efforts. Many writers are simply deciding that the “game-changers” happened earlier. The official CW account of the election, of course, may ultimately depend on who writes a book that gets picked up by HBO.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on November 14, 2012 9:39 AM:

    As most of us know here this is simply about the corporate media's investment, desire, to have buffoon, sociopath, and pathological liar Romney be the next president.

    Thus, they created their 'narratives' and 'story lines' in order to do just that.

    Now that's it over and people like Nate Silver who had it right from the beginning, and corrupt organizations like Gallup was the worst of all yet relied the most by the corporate media, these same corporate props called pundits now need to be in denial, just like the Repiglicans themselves, of that which the did, and are responsible for.

  • schtick on November 14, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Teapubs are known for rewriting history. It's their favorite subject to make them look good and everyone else as the enemy. And of course the "corporations are people, too" boys are richie rich teapubs and who do you think they are going to pander to for their even richer future?

  • del on November 14, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Yes, that was their mime and they will not live up to it. Unfortunately, they are continuing to run with their other mime instead of holding people accountable, and that is the one that says 'both sides do it' until they think they have the President in a bind. Then it's gung-ho and let's bring in every repug we can to speak against the President including failed candidate John McCain. Seems like he's everywhere when they wish to try and tie the President to any scandal they can or negative point they can. This shows the continued bias of MSM.

  • Jay C on November 14, 2012 9:50 AM:

    Gee, yet another post-election "Conventional Wisdom Was Wrong" thumbsucker! I've seen Brendan Nyhan's name on blogs: does he not (or didn't he?) ever read any during the election campaign?
    That the media was pushing a fairly bogus (and grossly self-interest-mongering) "neck-and-neck-horse-race" narrative for months should have been obvious from even a cursory perusal of non-"mainstream" media. Yet, with astonishing predictability, after the election turns out pretty much exactly as polling said it would, here's a "pundit" amazed that it should be that way, and disingenuously wondering why the coverage (which critics had been, well, criticizing since about April) was so "off"??

  • c u n d gulag on November 14, 2012 9:50 AM:

    In the past few elections, the MSM also had a large part to play in the result.

    In 2000, they were the drivers in Bush's eventual tainted victory, by mocking Al Gore, and buying the Bush as "Compassionate Conservative."

    In 2004, they gave credence to the Swiftboaters, instead of laughing them off, and fell for every elevation of the 'Terror Alert Level."

    In 2008, they were about to jump all-in with McCain and his mavericky, ballsy, pick of sexy Sarah, The Schook of the North.
    And then, Sarah imploded, McCain fiddled with stammering as the economy burned, and the MSM was forced to acknowedge that the unlikely Barack Hussein Obama was a shoe-in.

    No so much this year - they neutered themselves, as they were mostly anti-math, and bought the "Unskewed Polls" BS.

    And now, instead of hiding their heads in shame, they try to regain their power as pundits, by drumming this "Fiscal Cliff" BS, making an economic mountain, out of a mole-hill.
    It's as if the Republican put out an "Economic Alert Level" color scheme:
    But before we all die, please stay tuned for our news special: "General's 'ALL IN" WITH WOMEN NOT THEIR WIVES!'"

    There is no hope for this idiotic country.
    Plus, they get the gravy

  • BillFromPA on November 14, 2012 10:11 AM:

    As long as corporate media exists in its current form, there will never be a blowout election. Oh, we may have a presidential election decided by a double digit gap and many polls will reflect the fact for some time, but it will never be the CW that this result is likely before voting starts. Too many dollars depend on a horserace.

    My favorite example is the MSM attempt to keep the Obama/Clinton primary race close. Chuck Todd and Gene Robinson were the only pundits I saw who said, fairly early, that the path for Clinton required astronomical wins as Spring approached, nearly an impossible clore, and of course she was saddled with Penn. You may recall that the MSM mantra was that Clinton remained viable because she was winning the 'Big States' and Obama the 'Little Ones', and they actually cited Texas, as though any Dem was going to take that in the General, and due to the way delegates were selected, Obama won in the end, not that the MSM reported that. They will always find some metric to keep it close, until the day after, when, of course, they knew all along.

  • Gandalf on November 14, 2012 10:24 AM:

    There are none that are so blind as those that will not see.
    Perhaps this election was about the ideology of the twq parties.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 14, 2012 10:29 AM:

    If this year's election coverage by the media/press didn't convince you the press is nothing but a group of technically incompetent, cowardly gasbags you either aren't very smart or you just ain't hooked up right.

    All you have to do to convince yourself of this is go back and watch the episode of Charlie Rose after the first "debate." Complete buffoons. Halperin, Leonhardt, Heilemann, Rose himself, etc. Bozos, idiots, ...

  • Peter C on November 14, 2012 10:42 AM:

    "What connects the pre- and post-election accounts we are reading is the persistent belief in campaign events as crucial: it’s not the “fundamentals” of external forces (e.g., the economy) or party ID that matter, but debates, ads and long-planned GOTV efforts."

    Another thing that connects these accounts is the party who benefits from the dominant narrative. Before the election, it is helpful to have the press say that you are 'surging' and 'neck-and-neck'. After the election, it is beneficial to have the press say that you 'fought nobly against insurmountable odds'.

    I think it is fair to conclude that the press is not our friend.

  • Tony Greco on November 14, 2012 11:14 AM:

    I think there may be a very simple explanation for the change. Before the election, the media felt the need to be "balanced"; it would not do to acknowledge too openly that all the signs pointed to an Obama victory. After the election, that constraint was no longer operative.