Part 3—Imitation of news: Yesterday, Candidate Clinton said it again, during a press avail:
“No matter what anybody tries to say, the facts are stubborn. What I did was legally permitted, number one, first and foremost, OK?”
It certainly wasn’t OK on today’s Morning Joe! In that program’s opening segment, everyone said that statement was false—without naming the law or regulation Clinton had violated.
Meanwhile, there’s that passage from the New York Times’ front page, two Sundays ago:
“When she took office in 2009, with ever more people doing government business through email, the State Department allowed the use of home computers as long as they were secure...There appears to have been no prohibition on the exclusive use of a private server.”
We never assume the Times is right concerning such matters. But as is always the case in these matters, the heated discussion of “emailgate” begs for clarification—a service the national press corps is rarely equipped to provide.
As the scribes flog emailgate, the need for clarification grows. But clarity isn’t the press corps’ game. Consider a brief exchange from Monday night’s PBS NewsHour.
As we noted yesterday, Gwen Ifill had gone to the fair. She mentioned the pork chops, the butter and fun at the Iowa state fair. Through videotape, she let us see that many hopefuls were there.
That said, do we know how this hoopla will turn out by the time of next year’s Iowa caucuses? Does current polling give us a clue about how this thing will turn out?
Briefly, Ifill spoke with a local professor about this rather basic question. Their exchange made little sense—but then, what else is new?
IFILL (8/17/15): Are voters engaged or simply curious? Iowa voters have a long history of favoring insurgents and unknowns, at least early on.That was Ifill’s full exchange with the Drake professor. We’d have to say that the NewsHour was pretending to provide analysis there. Let’s note a few basic points:
The Iowa caucuses next February are an important springboard to primary season, but there are no guarantees. Ronald Reagan? George H. W. Bush? Bill Clinton? They all lost here.
Naturally, the state fair has its own poll, with corn kernels used to cast votes. The real polls show Sanders in a solid second place in Iowa, while in New Hampshire, next door to his home state of Vermont, one recent poll has him ahead.
Arthur Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University and no relation to the senator, watches all the fuss with an expert’s amusement. He suspects the Sanders and Trump surges are summer romances.
Does August bear any resemblance to what we are going to see in February?
IFILL: Tell me what you mean.
SANDERS: Well, on the Democratic side, the answer is partly, probably yes, because the contours of that race is relatively clear. You have got a distinctive front-runner. You have got a significant challenge on the left. And then you have got a few other candidates who are hoping to emerge of that struggle.
On the Republican side, you have an unprecedented number of candidates. We have seventeen people running. The distance between second place and ninth place might be two percent on caucus night.
According to Ifill, the professor thinks that Trump and Sanders’ current poll numbers are examples of “summer romance.”
For all we know, that may be his real opinion! But in the actual Q-and-A, the professor didn’t state, defend, support or explain that view.
In his first statement, the professor seems to say that February’s voting won’t “bear any resemblance” to current polling, in which Trump and Sanders are doing quite well.
When he says this, he’s asked to explain. In his subsequent statement, he semi-contradicts himself about the Democratic race, concerning which he makes no predictions. He then offers a rather irrelevant semi-prediction about the Republican side.
(The second- through ninth-place finishers may be tightly bunched!)
By the way, was the professor talking about future results in Iowa and New Hampshire? Or was he discussing Iowa only?
That point wasn’t made clear. As delivered on the air, that passage had the form of news analysis, but it was just a pretense.
Crackers, please! The professor never actually said that we’re looking at summer romance. He never said that Sanders and Trump will do less well than current polls suggest.
If that really is his view, he was never asked to state, explain or support it.
On Monday evening, PBS viewers got to think that they were watching “the news.” In that particular passage, they got to think that they were watching an interview with a local expert.
In truth, they were being entertained with a purely formal presentation. In that puzzling interview, they were handed an imitation of news.
In the subsequent pundit segment, Judy Woodruff and a pair of pundits extended the theme of the summer romance—and the general inanity.
As they started, the pair of pundits laughingly said that they don’t know who will win the Iowa caucuses. Still and all, they extended the enjoyable theme of the “summer fling,” the “summer loving.”
As they did, they skipped the chance to inform the public about why early attention on Iowa polling may be especially silly—why it’s silly to invest much time on polling this early in the process.
The Iowa caucuses are hard to poll or predict. The added difficulty stems from the peculiar, time-consuming caucus format itself.
Uh-oh! The time-consuming caucus format tends to lower turnout. This complicates polling, since it’s especially hard to predict who will turn out for the grueling, hours-long sessions.
To what extent is Iowa turnout reduced by the caucus format? Consider the numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, when both parties conducted spirited nomination fights.
Below, you see the approximate voter turnouts in these two states for the November 2008 general election. Note—Iowa is the larger state:
Turnout for general election, November 2008More than twice as many people voted in Iowa! But during the primary season, turnout for the Iowa caucuses was actually smaller than the turnout for the New Hampshire primary. In these approximate numbers, you see a price that is paid for the laborious Iowa process:
New Hampshire: 707,000
Turnout for caucuses/primary, January 2008Except in the most general sense, it’s silly to pay a lot of attention to polling data at this time, as our cable news divisions are currently doing. It’s especially silly in Iowa, where polling is complicated by the difficulty of knowing who will show up for the hours-long caucus sessions.
New Hampshire: 518,000
Can we talk? Many deeply important issues need to be clarified at this time, emailgate among them. But especially on our cable “news” channels, it’s been all Trump, all polls all the time.
On Monday evening’s NewsHour, they gamboled and played at the fair. They entertained PBS viewers with pork chops and summer romance—and with the latest pretense.
They could have explained how silly it is to obsess on polling data in August, especially in the Hawkeye State. But that would spoil the fun for their colleagues on the other news/entertainment channels, who are laboring over the numbers every night of the week.
(Except on the weekends, when they run their “true crime” programs.)
Ifill’s interview with the professor made no earthly sense. It was an imitation of an interview. Plainly, it was a pretense.
Meanwhile, Candidate Trump had actually released an important policy plan. How did the NewsHour handle that? What about other top outlets?
Tomorrow: Judy visits the plan