A culture of incoherence: We're frequently puzzled by the caliber of the work we find in the New York Times.
This morning, we thought Nate Cohn's analysis piece about gerrymandering was virtually incoherent. Linda Qiu, move it on over!
Cohn's report concerns the current battle about House districts in Pennsylvania. The state's Supreme Court found that the Republican legislature had created districts which were impermisibly gerrymandered. As a result, the court devised a new congressional map, in theory for this fall's elections.
In this morning's report, Cohn was discussing those two districting plans—the original plan, created by the Republican legislature, and the current plan, created by the state Supreme Court. His report before the Upshot brand, meaning it came from the Times' most brainiac region.
Cohn starts by explaining the basis on which the original map was dumped. How do we know that the districts were impermissibly gerrymandered? In his first two grafs, he explains:
COHN (2/27/18): In the view of the majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, “perhaps the most compelling evidence” that Republicans sacrificed traditional redistricting criteria for partisan gain was a political scientist’s simulation of 500 possible congressional maps.Good grief! Professor Chen created 500 possible districting schemes. None of them favored the GOP as much as the map the Republican legislature adopted!
The Republican-drawn map was an extreme outlier compared with the simulations made by Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan, who has provided expert testimony in many redistricting cases. None of the simulations favored Republicans by anywhere near as much as the congressional map enacted in 2011, which gave the Republicans a 13-to-5 advantage. And partly on that basis, the court ruled that the map violated the state’s constitution.
On that basis, the state Supreme Court threw out the Republican districting scheme. But uh-oh! The new map drawn by the state Supreme Court seems to be almost as bad, or so Cohn seems to say:
COHN (continuing directly): But what about the remedial map recently adopted by the court? It is not an outlier to the same extent as the Republican-drawn map. But if you look at what 2016 statewide results would have been with the new map, the overall Democratic performance arguably would have been better than in all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations, according to an Upshot analysis.Say what? Already, we're somewhat confused. Cohn almost seems to have made a pair of contradictory statements.
First, he says the map adopted by the court is not an outlier to the same extent as the old Republican plan. But then, he almost seems to contradict himself—he says Democrats would arguably do better, with this new map, than they would have done with all of Professor's Chen's 500 possible maps.
It sounds like the new map favor Democrats almost as much as the previous map favored Republicans. We don't know why he says the new map isn't as big an outlier.
Already, we were puzzled. But now, as Cohn continued, it seemed to us that his work became completely incoherent:
COHN (continuing directly): One common measure of a congressional map is to look at the result of the median congressional district in the average statewide election (here, the five contests in 2016). The larger the gap between the median and the average statewide popular vote, the harder it is to win a majority of seats despite winning the popular vote. By that measure, the new map was better for the Democrats than all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations.By now, we had no real idea what Cohn was talking about, and we were only four paragraphs in.
You tell us—do you have any idea how to paraphrase that highlighted statement? Do you have any idea what Cohn is talking about?
We'll admit that we do not. Indeed, we find that highlighted passage to be so opaque that it's difficult even to explain why we're puzzled. Let's start with this:
Cohn says we have to look at "the result of the median congressional district in the average statewide election." Presumably, that means we take a bunch of statewide elections in Pennsylvania and determine which district, on average, ends up in the middle of the partisan pack—midway between pro-Republican and pro-Democratic districts.
So far, pretty much so good. But then, he refers to "the five contests in 2016." They seem to be the "statewide elections" from which we're supposed to determine the median district. But what five statewide elections is he referring to?
What five statewide elections took place in Pennsylvania in 2016? Off the top of our heads, we would have thought there was only one statewide election in Pennsylvania that year—the famous election which took place in November 2016.
To what other statewide elections could Cohn be referring? Is he referring to statewide primary elections? Perhaps to statewide special elections? It's amazing that a writer would introduce so much confusion into a piece where it seems to be so unnecessary. But at this point, four paragraphs in, we were already massively puzzled.
Despite the confusion, we do come away from that paragraph with one basic impression. It sounds like the court's new map massively favors Democrats! By the common measure Cohn has tried to describe, "the new map was better for the Democrats than all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations." Once again, it sounds to us like the court's new map favors Democrats to the same extreme degree that the legislature's original map had favored Republicans.
If that's the way this new map works, it sounds like something is rotten in the state's Supreme Court! But Cohn doesn't seem to see how extreme his description sounds, and before too long, we're again reading this:
COHN: The Upshot analysis also helps address a more arcane matter in the debate about the new court-ordered map: why many nonpartisan analysts thought it favored Democrats, even though it seemed to score well—it wasn’t an outlier—by the measure of Mr. Chen’s analysis. The reason is simple: Most nonpartisan analysts have judged the map by today’s electoral landscape, while Mr. Chen’s analysis used elections from 2008 and 2010.The court-ordered map "wasn't an outlier by the measure of Mr. Chen's analysis?" Haven't we read, several times, that it favored Democrats more than any of Chen's 500 possible maps?
From there, Cohn apparently goes on to try to explain himself, but by now we'd stopped reading. They only let you sit in Starbucks for at most maybe three or four hours. Instead of wrestling with Cohn any ,ore, we spent some time puzzling over the relentless weirdness of the New York Times.
Does Cohn know what he'stalking about? We will assume that he might. Having said that, we will also say this:
As journalism, his piece today is god-awful; his work defies comprehension. Are there any editors at the New York Times at all? Did such people actually think that this work could be parsed by a typical reader?
Last week, in this award-winning post, we marveled at the incompetent work which routinely comes from the pen of the Times' fact-checker, Linda Qiu, who is three years out of college. Today, Cohn's analysis piece is a masterwork of primal scream incoherence.
Meanwhile, on today's "reimagined" page A3, the Times insults its readers' intelligence, as it does every day of the week. Believe it or croak, this appears first on the list of today's "Noteworthy Facts," right at the top of the page (hard-copy editions only):
Of InterestWe sh*t you not! That was this very day's top-listed "Noteworthy Fact!"
NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S PAPER
There are about 400 dog breeds compared with 40 cat breeds.
The New York Times is the product of a very peculiar subgroup. Anthropologists say their like has rarely been seen on this earth.
Career liberal players won't tell you these things. Dearest darlings, stop and think! It simply isn't done.