Speculation about expectations!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

Atop the Post's front page, Tumulty proves Krugman's point:
Yesterday, in his New York Times column, Paul Krugman discussed what the press corps should and shouldn't do in reporting Monday's debate.

We didn't agree with every word. In particular, we don't recommend the casual use of the term "lie" when journalists describe the misstatements of candidates, even the howling misstatements.

That said, we think Krugman made a lot of good points, if you're prepared to accept a large amount of informed speculation on his part. In that chunk of informed speculation, Krugman says it's highly likely that Candidate Trump will emit more howlers during Monday's debate than Candidate Clinton will.

If that happens, Krugman says, the press corps should let that basic fact guide its reporting and analyses. Their reporting and analyses should reflect the disproportion between the two candidates' misstatements.

According to Krugman, the press corps shouldn't pretend, or convey the impression, that the two candidates misspoke to an equal degree. And yet, Krugman says, journalists will feel pressured to do just that.

In this passage, we think Krugman makes good points, assuming you're prepared to accept his assumption about what is likely to happen:
KRUGMAN (9/23/16): ...I am not calling on the news media to take a side; I’m just calling on it to report what is actually happening, without regard for party. In fact, any reporting that doesn’t accurately reflect the huge honesty gap between the candidates amounts to misleading readers, giving them a distorted picture that favors the biggest liar.

Yet there are, of course, intense pressures on the news media to engage in that distortion. Point out a Trump lie and you will get some pretty amazing mail—and if we set aside the attacks on your race or ethnic group, accusations that you are a traitor, etc., most of it will declare that you are being a bad journalist because you don’t criticize both candidates equally.

One all-too-common response to such attacks involves abdicating responsibility for fact-checking entirely, and replacing it with theater criticism: Never mind whether what the candidate said is true or false, how did it play? How did he or she “come across”? What were the “optics”?

But theater criticism is the job of theater critics; news reporting should tell the public what really happened, not be devoted to speculation about how other people might react to what happened.
Never mind whether what the candidate said is true or false, how did it play? How did he or she “come across”?

In that passage, Krugman is describing an extremely common type of punditry. For a recent egregious example, consider Nia-Malika Henderson's analysis of a statement by Candidate Clinton in the recent Commander in Chief Forum. For our report, click here.

Krugman is right in that passage. Analysts should focus on whether a statement is true or false, not on speculations about how the statement "came across" to the nation's 130 million voters.

That said, journalists love to engage in such speculations. They even like to pre-speculate about such matters—to speculate in advance.

We thought of that passage from Krugman's column when we read today's Washington Post. Atop the front page of the hard-copy Post, a news report by Karen Tumulty sat beneath these headlines:
Why the first debate is the most hazardous
With expectations for Clinton higher, a stumble could hurt her more
Those headlines are egregious. In those headlines, the Washington Post tells its readers that expectations for Candidate Clinton will be higher next Monday night. For that reason, the Post tells readers, an error by Candidate Clinton on Monday may prove to be more harmful than an error by Candidate Trump.

That last claim is pure speculation. That said, this conceptual structure is very familiar from past presidential debates, most notably from the first debate between Candidates Bush and Gore in October 2000.

In the run-up to that crucial debate, the mainstream press corps immersed itself in the expectations game. For a reasonably detailed report about what they did, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06.

The mainstream press corps loves to play this expectations game. Note the way Tumulty recalls that deeply consequential first debate between Bush and Gore as she starts her report:
TUMULTY (9/24/16): The first presidential debate of the general election is often the most treacherous—especially for the candidate who steps on stage with the presumed advantage.

Which is why Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the one in that position this time around, knows not to take anything for granted.

Monday’s 90-minute faceoff at Hofstra University on Long Island is projected to have the biggest audience ever for politics’ equivalent of the NBA playoffs, with estimates that upward of 100 million people will be watching.

“You can’t really win an election in a debate, but you can lose one,” said Brett O’Donnell, a communications consultant with long experience coaching GOP presidential candidates. “The first debate is the most important of all the debates, and it definitely has the most potential to harm.”

Examples of first-debate stumbles are many. And they have almost always hurt the candidate for whom the expectations were higher.

The biggest pitfall is a blunder that confirms the misgivings that voters may already be harboring.

A confused Ronald Reagan rambled in 1984, opening doubts about whether he had become too old to do the most important job in the world. In 2000, Al Gore sighed and exaggerated. George W. Bush casually draped himself over the lectern in 2004 and peevishly quibbled on minor points. Four years ago, an aloof Barack Obama seemed to phone it in.
Eventually, Tumulty explains her claim that expectations for Candidate Clinton are higher. She cites a recent survey in which 53 percent of voters said they expected Clinton to do a better job Monday night.

Only 43 percent said they expected Trump to do a better job. On that rather flimsy basis, Tumulty speculates that a blunder by Clinton may do more harm than a blunder by Trump.

This is pure speculation. To state the obvious, no one has made a blunder yet. More significantly, Tumulty presents no evidence in support of her basic thesis—her claim that voters react more strongly to a blunder by the candidate who entered the debate with "higher expectations."

She cites Campaign 2000 as an example supporting her thesis. What sorts of blunders did Candidate Gore supposedly make, leading to pushback from voters expecting more?

"In 2000, Al Gore sighed and exaggerated," Tumulty writes. In a slightly more rational world, work like this would get reporters and editors fired.

Did Candidate Gore "sigh and exaggerate" during that first debate? Did the sighing and the exaggerations cause him to be graded harshly by voters?

When it comes to the alleged sighing, we've often extended The C-Span Challenge. Go ahead! Watch that full debate on this C-Span videotape. Accept the challenge of trying to see or hear those troubling sighs, which later became so famous in the punditry of the mainstream press.

After puzzling yourself in that manner, recall this additional point. After that history-changing debate, five major news orgs surveyed viewers about which candidate "won."

In all five surveys, Candidate Gore was declared the winner, by a margin which averaged ten points. This happened after the voters were offended by the sighs you'll barely see or hear on that C-Span tape, according to Tumulty's thesis—after Gore was supposedly graded harshly, due to voters' high expectations before that crucial debate.

According to Krugman, journalists shouldn't speculate about the way candidates' statements "come across" to voters. Atop the front page in this morning's Post, Tumulty is pre-speculating about the way a blunder by Clinton may come across.

Tumulty is also declaring that Candidate Clinton is facing a higher bar next Monday. Before the first debate of Campaign 2000, mainstream pundits spent so much time driving down expectations for Candidate Bush that they were openly laughing about it in the days before that debate.

Three days before that crucial debate, Brit Hume laughingly described the way expectations had been lowered for Candidate Bush. According to Hume, the run-up to this first debate “helped to beat the expectations down, which are now in the case of George W. Bush so low that if he gets through it without drooling that he will have thought to have done well, or at least better than some expected.”

It's fairly clear that Hume was discussing the way expectations for Candidate Bush had been lowered by major pundits. A few other pundits mocked this journalistic procedure back then. But Tumulty was playing the same old game this morning.

In this game, pundits set different expectations for the candidates before the debate. They set the bar of expectations higher for one candidate, lower for the other. Often, this setting of expectations will affect the way the debate is judged, not by any actual voters, but by the press corps itself.

Making matters worse, Tumulty supports her thesis with a Standard Press Corps Story about that first Bush-Gore debate—a Standard Story which eliminates what the press corps did after five surveys all declared that, in the opinion of voters who watched the debate, Candidate Gore had "won."

If you couldn't observe what our press corps does, you'd think such conduct couldn't exist. On Monday, we'll extend these thoughts, noting the way the career liberal world has endlessly enabled and accepted this mainstream press conduct.

Yesterday, Krugman complained, making some very good points as he did. These complaints come very late in the game, a game of some twenty-plus years.

58 comments:

  1. From Mark Kleiman:

    "Mike Isikoff is about as far from being a Clinton-lover as it’s possible to be on an outpatient basis: he was last seen chasing down a semen-stained dress. But today he broke a blockbuster story: tracing the activities in Moscow of Carter Page, an otherwise utterly obscure person who was nonetheless one of the five people Donald Trump listed as “foreign policy advisers” to his campaign.

    It appears that, after Trump named him as an adviser and just before the Republican convention, Page met in Moscow not only with an oligarch on the sanctions list but also with the official apparently in charge of Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, including both the activities of the RT and Sputnik News and the hackers who broke into the DNC emails and released the results to WikiLeaks timed to create maximum heartache for Clinton.

    Also today, ABC blew a major hole in Trump’s denial of major economic ties to Russia: his estimated take was in the “hundreds of millions of dollars,” some of it from the Russian mafia. His proposal to put his assets in a “blind trust” run by his children doesn’t pass the giggle test: that trust wouldn’t even need glasses."

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    1. The press seem very nervous about damaging Trump in a serious way, a close race is worth more to them.

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    2. Rubbish. You ASSume a profit motive?
      Your cynicism is only exceeded by your sneering know-nothingness.

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    3. Ivanka had her dress listed on eBay before she even left the RNC convention stage. Of course there is a profit motive with the Trumps.

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    4. No one believes this "blockbuster" and if anyone did, they wouldn't care.

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    5. They don't care that a major candidate is promoting Russian interests, either intentionally or by subversion?

      Republicans especially will care about this. This is close to treason. It horrifies me that Trump would allow this, but then so much about Trump horrifies me. He says unthinkable things about his daughter, why not his country?

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  2. This isn't Clinton's first debate. Or her first rodeo.

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    1. I think she will kick ass. But the press will have to come up with some trivial flaw to equate with Trump's massive ones.

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    2. I think she should mention Trump’s plan to reduce taxes on corporations and billionaires. The the top 1 percent of taxpayers would see their incomes rise by 16 percent under his plan. Polls show that raising taxes on the rich is very popular.

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  3. I agree with Bob: The press got it wrong, and innocent people died in Iraq FOR NO REASON.

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    1. Gore sighed, people died.

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    2. Gore sighed, the media lied, people died.

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    3. Yabut let’s not forget that the press heroically saved us from the horror of having a president who sighs after hearing a string of lies from a dissembling political opponent--that’s worth a few lives, don’t ya think?

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  4. A lot of speculation beforehand this time. We are nervous, rightfully so.
    Wasn't Obama's weak performance against Romney in the first debate? He fully recovered.

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    Replies
    1. It didn't seem to matter whether Obama won the debates or not.

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    2. It sure did at the time.

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    3. That first debate showed Obama's true character. He kept saying: "The Governor and I agree." He's a compromiser not a fighter. So a lot of people said, ok, if you agree with this guy then there's no need for us to vote for you. He plunged in the polls, lost his lead and nearly lost the election.

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    4. Don't be silly.

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    5. It happened. Check the polls, fool.

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    6. He came back won because he went on the attack in the final two debates. People want to vote for someone who attacks evil not compromises with it. That's the lesson Hillary needs to learn.

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    7. Hillary has been attacking Trump during this entire campaign. Her existence is an attack on Trump. You don't have to get red in the face and call names to attack someone. Just create an situation where stupidity and greed can be recognized for what they are. Whatever the outcome of this election, Trump is never going to be treated the same way again. He has lost the comfort of normality and will be considered a lost soul by people of substance. Unfortunately for Trump, those are the very people he has been trying to buy acceptance from his entire life. Their approval is farther than ever out of reach and that is his life's tragedy. It would be sad if he weren't such a bastard.

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    8. "Normality" and "people of substance." this is the way low IQ people argue.

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  5. Trump has apparently promised to increase both coal and natural gas production in PA. This is amusing, from Digby, quoting a Harvard economist and expert on energy markets:

    “There is a fundamental inconsistency between Trump’s promise to ‘bring the coal industry back 100 percent,’ as he says, and any promises to use government policy to grow the market for natural gas,” said Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard.

    “The primary cause of the tremendous fall in coal employment is low natural gas prices, due to increased supplies of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing,” Professor Stavins said. “If the Trump administration wanted to help coal, it could ban fracking. But he can’t have it both ways.”

    Stuff like this is buried on liberal websites. If he makes promises like this during the debate, they will sound good to everyone who doesn't know any better, like those of us who live in other states. I think Hillary pointing this kind of thing out would constitute a zinger and make Trump look foolish.

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  6. Mike Isikoff is about as far from being a Clinton-lover as it’s possible to be on an outpatient basis: he was last seen chasing down a semen-stained dress.

    Actually Isikoff was handed the Monica story and chose to bottle it up. It only came out because someone got the facts over to Drudge.

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    1. "Actually Isikoff was handed the Monica story and chose to bottle it up. It only came out because someone got the facts over to Drudge."

      And they call Hillary delusional for believing people were out to get them.

      I agree -- go away David.

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  7. The ultimate in hypocrisy - the New York Times endorses Hillary Clinton for President. That even tops coward Ted Cruz's endorsement of the Yammerin' Yam.

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  8. Wow. Tumulty just couldn’t be more wrong. All eyes will be on Trump because he’s Bart Simpson and Clinton is Lisa Simpson. He the rogue element, the bad boy, the tv showman who seemingly decided to run on a whim and somehow got there by promising to kick all the Apus out of the country. He’s the joker who shouldn’t be there while Clinton is the steady, serious, knowledgeable one who obviously belongs on the stage. People will be asking: Do we really want this joker in the White House? Which means he will be under enormous pressure to be statesmanlike, which means un-Bartlike or rather, un-Trumplike.

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    1. He's not Bart, he's the bully who laughs like a jackass -- hawhaw -- and is stupid but doesn't seem to know it. No one respects him and he doesn't win, despite his meanness. His voters are Cletus and his family and his strings are pulled by Mr. Burns. You are an idiot if you cannot recognize the characteristics of Simpsons characters.

      People like Lisa and there is an episode where she winds up president.

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    2. There aren't very many female characters to choose from on the Simpsons.

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    3. @ 5:55 PM
      "People like Lisa and there is an episode where she winds up president."

      People like Lisa based on her as an eight-year-old. But in the episode did they show her becoming president after a thirty year long attack by Republicans accusing her of being a serial murderer?

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    4. Didn't you feel silly writing that sentence?

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    5. Euphoric, actually. Thirty years of political history so perfectly expressed.

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    6. Gotta rethink those drugs, guy.

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    7. It's called knowledge. Give it a try, it will change your life.

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  9. My wife and I both wished for Lester Holt to replace Brian Williams. I think highly of Holt, but is he up to a seasoned negotiator like Trump?
    One of the most important techniques of a good negotiator is to get the the other party to agree, to nod along. In Trump's case it's his audience. Keep saying things the audience agrees with, even if they are lies, then ask for the close,(i.e.,vote).
    I don't think Holt has enough facts at his fingertips to challenge Trump's bluster.
    I wish they would get an informed journalist to monitor the "debate", say Ezra Klien, Matt Yglesias, Zach Goldfarb, Matt Taibbi or David Leonhardt. There are some good women economic reporters, too, but I have read columns by these guys.
    Of course, Trump would most likely avoid facing these people in public.
    As far as Trump getting people to agree with him, I call up Joseph Heller.
    Gen. Peckem: “You see, my most precious abilities are mainly administrative ones. I have a happy facility for getting different people to agree.”

    Col. Cargill: “He has a happy facility for getting different people to agree what a prick he is.”

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    1. Trump is a " seasoned negotiator?" He negotiated all those deals that sent him into his numerous bankruptcies. He's good at negotiating with his debtors, I'll give you that.

      Would you invest in a company that he was the CEO of?

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    2. Would you invest in a company that Hillary was the CEO of?

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    3. A whole lot of people have invested in the Clinton Global Initiative, an organization that has done an excellent job of carrying out its role in helping others and that is given A-ratings by auditors. I would gladly invest in anything Hillary was involved in.

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    4. "Would you believe a word this troll types?"

      FTFY - NFODiC

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    5. Well, DinC, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have to go to Russian mafia oligarchs to get a loan, like the criminal you support.

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  10. The topics on Monday will include America’s Direction, Achieving Prosperity, and Securing America. With such broad topics anything could be subject for discussion. With that in mind, it might be fun to read what people here think of one of this year’s most memorable debate moments:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4ThZcq1oJQ

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  11. As if the twits moderating the debate are fonts of knowledge that qualifies them to recognize "lies." They are biased and agenda driven and The Hillary camp knows it,and wants them to remember the facts when Trump missteps and forget them when The Queen lies.

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    1. @ 1:53 AM - Breitbart ====================>

      Get lost!

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    2. Funny didn't realize this was not so breitbart!

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    3. Funny didn't realize this was not so breitbart!

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    4. The tipoff is "The Queen."

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  13. I remember watching CNN after the first debate. Wolf Blitzer was moderating a focus group of undecided voters. At the end he ask those who thought Gore won to raise their hands, over 2/3rds did so. When he asked who thought Bush won, less than 1/3rd did. Blitzer then said it was about 50/50. I was stunned at his dishonesty.

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  14. I keep seeing commenters at Daily Kos and HuffPost suggesting that both Scott and Crutcher were treated with extra suspicion because they are black. Does the public not understand that police have radios and computers in their vehicles that are used to look up license plates to find info about the registered owners before approaching them?

    Both men are felons with a history of weapons charges. In all the discussion, the press has not mentioned that and the commenters have not talked about how that might have made police more wary and more likely to interpret their actions as hostile.

    I realize that many progressives are inclined to dismiss any criminal record on the grounds that the justice system is biased against black men, but there are some who have actually committed the crimes they were convicted of and who are actually dangerous. The police do not dismiss a record because if they misjudge a person they (or others) may be injured if are wrong.

    I've also seen commenters asking why the wife wasn't included in the interaction with Scott. A guest on MSNBC pointed out that police may not know whether the wife is part of a domestic dispute and whether she might escalate the situation instead of calming it. If they did listen to her tell them there was no weapon and a cop were later shot (Scott did have a gun), they would be blamed for listening. I can't see how people reasonably expect cops to follow this kind of procedure in situations of uncertainty.

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    1. "I realize that many progressives ...."

      ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

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    2. When previously arrested, Crutcher attacked cops using a gun in an ankle holster. When he was shot during this incident, he had his hands on the car, then suddenly dropped to the ground and was shot at that point. Given his past history, it is reasonable to believe he may again have been going for a gun in an ankle holster. His use of PCP complicates things by impairing his judgment and making him more dangerous to officers. The 911 call described him as behaving strangely. Of course officers would be wary approaching him and interpret his actions in the light of previous encounters with him. She will not be convicted. Her junior status as a relatively new, female officer may explain why she was charged at all, something I consider a sacrifice to appease potential protesters. There is an unfairness in that, too.

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    3. Blah, blah, blah. Same BS.

      VDARE/Breitbart/etc. ====================>

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    4. If you cannot deal with the facts of these cases, there isn't going to be any conversation about race in this country. Just more frustration and more black people in jail, given the current power differential.

      Trump can't make up his own facts. Neither can BLM. I got the details above from the Chicago Tribune, not VDARE or Breitbart, sites I have never read.

      When you omit the facts then the shootings truly make no sense and there is room to believe that cops (black, white, male, female, rookies and experienced) all shoot black men for no reason because racism. But that just isn't reality and I don't believe it does anyone any good to believe that is how the world works. Who gains with such a belief system?

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    5. ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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