How did that happen?
In a refreshing admission of ignorance, a pre-Alabama election headline in Politico declared, "Pollsters throw predictions out the window in Alabama race." Hallelujah.
So the victory of Democrat Doug Jones won't launch a thousand media symposia about fatal professional flaws but perhaps a few panels on the occasional overriding necessity of caution and modesty — and on the limits of data and metrics. Sometimes, you scour a district or state — you can work your butt off doing so, rather than sitting desk-bound staring at your Twitter feed — and, if honest, have to declare, "I don't know."
It made media coverage of the Roy Moore–Jones Senate race so riveting. This was a confusion wrought by complexity, not myopia, errant assumptions or enslavement to group think. And, despite the unavoidable primacy of cable news on such a night, the online world was a feast for voyeurs and political scientists alike, including University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.
"Yes, combination of reading tweets, network analysis of tweets, coverage content, and exit polling. A buffet of data! Like Nate Silver, the Upshot Team, Decision Desk HQ, Elliot Morris, county level returns from journos on the ground."
In early evening, numbers cruncher par excellence Nate Cohn of The New York Times tweeted, "Folks, our model thinks that the GOP may have a big turnout problem. The three, white, GOP counties have fallen far short of our turnout estimates — including two under 75% of our estimates. That's what the big swing in our estimate is about."
The media echo chamber took a bipartisan cast as Breitbart then reported, "Potential turnout problem for Moore if the NYT model’s estimates are correct." Yes, Breitbart deferring to The Times.
Dave Wasserman, House editor of the well-regarded nonpartisan Cook Report, followed with his night-long micro-analysis: "Folks: these Jefferson numbers are going to narrow. We don't know how good it really is for Jones."
Then came Cohn: "We think that the preponderance of the remaining vote is in Democratic-leaning areas." And more Wasserman: "Another strong Jones turnout in the Black Belt: Bullock Co., where turnout is 72% of presidential. Not seeing comparable in Moore zones."
At around 9:45 p.m., one found redoubtable Silver of FiveThirtyEight: "If Jones wins by <=1 point, Republicans are going to be wondering if write-ins cost them the election. If Moore wins by <=1 point, Democrats are going to be wondering if voter suppression cost them the election."
(Oh, amid the intense examinations of this breaking tale, an editor at The Washington Post, Mike Madden, chimed in, "No real need to call it a 'key race alert' when it is the only election in the country tonight, Wolf." Yeah, he had a point about the endearingly hyperbolic Blitzer. But, hey, cut him some slack, he's Wolf.)
(And, for some reason, Fox's Sean Hannity beckoned the aggressively funereal international affairs pundit Sebastian Gorka, Mr. Glass Half-Empty, to chime in that the election was about one thing: "Are you for the swamp or against the swamp?")
Then came Cohn's tweet, "Doug Jones is the projected winner in Alabama according to the AP."
And Silver, "Wow — a Democrat winning a Senate seat in Alabama. Hard not to think about the parallel to Scott Brown winning in Massachusetts in 2010. "
Amid the wall-to-wall punditry, there was Wassermann's early-evening tweet about Senate Leadership Fund President Steven Law, a Republican, saying this: “This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running. Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most R states in the country, but he also dragged POTUS into his fiasco.”
So how much to make of it? The press tendency is for sweeping generalizations and, by night's end, they were more plentiful than they'd been amid the pre-election ambiguity typified by the Politico headline.
The Cook Report's Wasserman conceded in a tweet, "Moore certainly an extreme & unique case." But one problem would seem to emerge for the Republicans in preparing for big mid-term elections in 2018: "Trump base not showing up for candidates not named Trump."
Will sports stymie Disney-Fox deal?
Says The Wall Street Journal, "With viewers turning to streaming video, sports has come to dominate traditional TV. In 2005, sports accounted for 14 of 100 most viewed broadcasts. In 2015, it was 93 out of 100, according to MoffettNathanson."
"That is one reason behind a potential 21st Century Fox-Disney deal, which could be announced as early as this week. And it is one reason why regulators could frown on such an agreement."
Businessweek makes us jealous
Here, save this link. It's Bloomberg Businessweek's annual "Jealousy" list, or the stories by others during the past year its staff wished they'd written. By and large, it's wonderful, again, and a reminder of the great work done these days that, in many cases, was simply drowned out by other great work, be that latter work on sexual harassment, Donald Trump, North Korea or Syria, among other topics.
Its picks may be from famous publications, and writers, you know of — such as Vanity Fair's Michael Lewis opus on Trump ignorance about the operations of the Energy Department, The New Yorker's Evan Osnos' revealing trek to North Korea, and ProPublica on how "Facebook’s Secret Censorship Rules Protect White Men From Hate Speech But Not Black Children."
But it may also come from lesser known publications, like The Fashion Law on "The Story Behind the Coveted Faberge Eggs," the London Review of Books' look at globalization by profiling a Cadbury chocolate factory that moved to Poland from England, and Fast Company's look at the internet mattress wars.
There's way more — with some of the selections debatable and too idiosyncratic by half. But it will inadvertently underscore how, amid the vastly greater quantities of junk that confront us, there's vastly greater quantities of high quality journalism.
Carlson chides Cuomo
Their respective lack of intellectual insecurity may bind Fox's Tucker Carlson and CNN's Chris Cuomo. But that might be it. During the early going last night, Carlson took his latest whack at Cuomo, whom he tags as his network rival's "poet laureate." He showed some Facebook video of Cuomo working out, and helping out the New York Times on a piece, then quoted from a rather rapturous piece on Cuomo in Mediate:
"CNN’s New Day host Chris Cuomo’s sharp legal mind was on full display Tuesday morning as he tore apart a recent tweet from President Donald Trump in the well-reasoned and dispassionate manner that viewers have come to expect."
Carlson chided the opus for the "shivering intensity of its love" for Cuomo, saying the reporter exhibited a "flourish North Korean PR officials would envy." He concluded with a facetious line about the piece crossing the line from journalism to stalking, "from fawning to creepy." Then it was back to the Alabama Senate race.
The morning Babel
"Trump & Friends" underscored how Roy Moore hasn't conceded, though admitting "a recount is unlikely" and pointing to the write-in vote, as did the show's favorite viewer last night. And it noted how Trump and Steve Bannon "were at loggerheads" over the race, at least initially. "I feel like this was a referendum on Harvey Weinstein," said co-host Ainsley Earhardt. It very quickly switched to the tale of the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who sent anti-Trump texts. Very quickly. Robert Mueller took him off the job on the Russian investigation during the summer.
Everybody else crunched the numbers on the Alabama race, including Jones winning two-thirds of college-educated, non-evangelical whites, as CNN "New Day's" Ron Brownstein noted in what he asserts is ominous for Republican congressional incumbents defending swing suburban seats next year. Conversely, "What is evangelical politics?" wondered co-host Chris Cuomo. "How they can be so all in for somebody who had so many checks on his morality? 80-plus to 18 (for Moore) were the numbers last night."
"Morning Joe" heralded minority turnout percentages, tending to compare with Barack Obama's first presidential win in 2008 (black turnout was 29 percent yesterday there, compared to 29 percent in 2008 with Obama).
The Volokh Conspiracy, a generally libertarian law and public policy blog started by Eugene Volokh, a UCLA professor, is moving to Reason.com from The Washington Post. It's here as of this morning.
In a New York Times piece early this year on the growing irrelevance of legal journals, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak noted, "On blogs like the Volokh Conspiracy and Balkinization, law professors analyze legal developments with skill and flair almost immediately after they happen. Law professors also seem to be litigating more, representing clients and putting their views before courts in supporting briefs. Law reviews, by contrast, feel as ancient as telegrams, but slower."
Headline of the day
"Screw You & Horse You Rode In On" is the front of the New York Daily News.
Waiting for a check
Hugh Hefner, who changed American culture by founding Playboy in 1953 and made a fortune by marketing sex, last year renewed a financial commitment to subsidize printing the Steinmetz Star, the paper at Chicago's Steinmetz High School. He graduated from there in 1944 and, as a reporter-cartoonist at the paper, always had a soft spot for it.
He visited in 2010 and made a $7,500-a-year, five-year commitment to help with printing the paper. There was a spat last year over censorship by the school administration but that was resolved and Hefner renewed his commitment to make sure the paper was printed in color and on high-quality paper.
Sharon Schmidt, the faculty adviser, tells me that even well before Hefner passed away, the oral promise to renew the commitment was not fulfilled. But, she says it's not fatal. "Once we had such a good looking paper, no one wants to go back to printing a newsletter, published in-house. That was my goal all along."
Oh, she says that the principal wanted to change the page 1 headline in the latest issue, on declining school enrollment, but the student reporter and one of the editors "said no."
Race in Boston
Part four of the excellent series by the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team looks at how "Boston has become a leader in attracting foreign students, but at the same time it lags behind other parts of the country when it comes to enrolling black college students from closer to home."
"In this Athens of America, packed with top colleges, the enrollment of African-American students in Greater Boston’s universities was less than 7 percent in 2015, notably less than most other major metro areas, according to the most recent federal data on students at every level. Nationally, the average for black enrollment is 11 percent."
"At the 10 largest private universities that give this region its renowned reputation in higher education, it was even lower: about 5 percent."
Tony Mauro's Supreme Court dissection
Tony Mauro is one of the best, most tenured U.S. Supreme Court reporters and he's now investigated diversity among Supreme Court law clerks. It will get lost in the Alabama mania of the moment but it's notable. His National Law Journal piece finds that "85 percent of all law clerks since 2005 have been white and twice as many men as women gain entry."
Why might one care? Well, "A year as a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk is a priceless ticket to the upper echelons of the legal profession. Former clerks have their pick of top-tier job offers and can command $350,000 hiring bonuses at law firms. Four current justices were formerly clerks at the court — a record number — and three U.S. senators are former clerks. The general counsels of both Apple and Facebook once clerked at the high court. For aspiring appellate litigators and academics, a Supreme Court clerkship opens the creakiest doors." He notes to me that all nine justices declined to comment on the lack of diversity among law clerks, and all nine also declined to help with the demographic research that went into the story. Yup, not a one lifted a finger.
He was also intrigued with "delving into the complex and clubby network of lower court judges, law professors and former clerks that has grown up around these prestigious Supreme Court clerkships." A bottom line, he says: "Whether intentional or not, it has narrowed the field of people who can get this golden ticket. And most of the justices themselves don't seem inclined to broaden the field. With almost ever player I interviewed, I asked whether the justices had ever asked or demanded that they provide more diverse candidates for clerkship. I continue to believe that if justices really demanded diversity from their 'feeders,' or made it clear publicly that they are seeking out diversity, it would happen. But no one seems to have had that conversation with the justices."
But, again, no help from the nine justices. "I learned in J-school a long time ago that no one is obliged to talk to reporters, but still … When I did the first tally of law clerk demographics nearly 20 years ago at USA Today, several justices were helpful. But this time, no help at all."
The Onion's Alabama take
"Scanning his mind for any minority groups he could have demonized more forcefully, Alabama Senate candidate and secret Democratic operative Roy Moore admitted Tuesday that he wasn’t sure what else he could have done to destroy the Republican Party’s reputation. 'When Nancy [Pelosi] sent me here, I was convinced that revealing myself as a pedophile would be more than enough, but now I’m just at a loss,' said Moore."