Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, October 31, 2008 10:58 am

The fat lady ain’t even warming up

Filed under: Fun,Journalism — Lex @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , , ,

Rem Rieder at American Journalism Review points out something that everyone working in news media ought already have taken to heart but hasn’t:

… it’s important to remember that polls are just polls. They are not predictive; they are only snapshots of reality at a specific moment. They can change quickly. …

… you don’t have to go back to the dreaded time before Twitter, iPhones and Scarlett Johannson to find instances where the conventional wisdom was utterly wrong. I remember vividly when Hillary Clinton had a lock on the nomination, when John McCain was toast in the Republican primary, when Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were formidable forces, when Obama was going to seal the deal in New Hampshire.

News media aren’t as good at predictions as they think they are.* Pollsters — reputable ones, anyway — don’t even claim to be predicting the future; in fact, most caution against it. News media and opining pundits alike should stow the predictions and wait for election night.

*The one notable exception to this rule was my friend and colleague Ed Hardin’s incredibly prescient column published the day of Super Bowl XXIX between San Francisco and San Diego. Not only did he predict a 49ers blowout, here’s exactly what he predicted:

  • Ed’s score prediction: 49ers 49, Chargers 16. Actual score: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.
  • Ed’s prediction: Steve Young would pass for 386 yards. Actual yardage: 325.
  • Ed’s prediction: Steve Young would pass for five TDs. Actual number: six.
  • Ed’s prediction: Jerry Rice would catch three TD passes. Actual number: three.
  • Ed’s prediction: Ricky Watters would catch two TD passes and run for a third TD. Actual numbers: two TD catches, one run TD.
  • Ed’s prediction: Natrone Means would rush for a TD. Actually: Means rushed for a TD.

To be fair, Ed was off on a couple of things, mainly that there would be a storm of biblical proportions at halftime and that a horse would break free along the sidelines, scattering photographers and cameramen in its path.

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