Maher pulls a fast one
Nate Silver, trashed over climate change, apologizes for his website
The list of Nate Silver critics just keeps on growing.
Harry Reid, Paul Krugman, climate-change advocates and on and on.
Whether or not you care about this data guru who aims to revolutionize journalism, it’s a fascinating look at how someone riding high in the media world can suddenly be brought low.
The Senate majority leader has jumped on the bandwagon of Democrats slamming Silver, who was beloved by the left when he predicted President Obama’s reelection while working for the New York Times.
“He gave me a 16 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Heidi Heitkamp an 8 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Jon Tester a  percent chance of being reelected,” Reid said. “So all polls are about like Nate Silver’s predictions: good sometimes, bad most of the time.”
Silver, as I noted last week, has angered the Democratic Party by giving the Republicans a 60 percent chance of capturing the Senate this fall. But now that he’s taken his 538 blog to ESPN, his problems run deeper than just disgruntled partisans.
A 538 piece by Colorado professor Roger Pielke that downplayed the impact of climate change has many in the global-warming crowd up in arms. The piece argued that while the cost of climate-related disasters is increasing, that’s because of the growing wealth of the world population, not the burgeoning impact of climate change.
Silver has been forced to backtrack, saying: “Reception to the article ran about 80 percent negative in the comments section and on social media. A reaction like that compels us to think carefully about the piece and our editorial process.
“Roger’s article also contained an implicit policy recommendation in its closing paragraph. Whether or not the recommendation was justified by Roger’s thesis and evidence, we generally prefer to avoid these kind of recommendations, and instead allow readers to draw any policy conclusions for themselves. Furthermore, there was some loose language in the article. We pride ourselves on precise, matter-of-fact language. These things reflect a poor job of editing on our part.”
Silver says he is commissioning a rebuttal piece, but that “the turnaround will not be instantaneous”—a problem in the lightning-quick web world.
“Please realize that you are using untruths to attack the reputation of someone who you know nothing about,” he said by e-mail. “If you actually did some real reporting you might be surprised at what you find.”
"Roger is a freelance contributor and his private communications do not represent FiveThirtyEight," Silver said in a statement to HuffPost. "We had candid conversations with Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth. We made clear that Roger's conversations with them did not reflect FiveThirtyEight's editorial values."
To make matters worse, Silver’s guy got into a dustup with two climate scientists, Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth. Mann told the liberal group Think Progress that Pielke’s article was “deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change.”
That prompted Pielke to send a toughly letter to the two scientists that they regarded as threatening. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Silver said: “"Roger is a freelance contributor and his private communications do not represent FiveThirtyEight. We had candid conversations with Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth. We made clear that Roger's conversations with them did not reflect FiveThirtyEight's editorial values."
Not exactly an auspicious debut for a new website.
The larger problem for Silver is that, so far at least, his site isn’t terribly compelling. The posts are okay, ranging from mildly interesting to decidedly dull. There’s little spark and almost nothing in there that compels me to check it regularly.
Silver has been trash-talking the media, calling most major op-ed columnists purveyors of crap, clearly suggesting that he can do far better.
Silver seemed to realize he had jacked up expectations too high during a “Daily Show” appearance last week:
“Well, here's the thing: Maybe on programs like this, there was a lot of hype about me and about FiveThirtyEight--”
“I called you the Lord of the Algorithm!” Stewart said.
“Yeah, and that was useful for book sales at the time, but right now it kind of sets a very high bar.”
A bar that, so far at least, Nate Silver isn’t clearing.
Maher pulls a fast one
When liberal HBO host Bill Maher brought up Paul Ryan's recent remarks on inner-city causes of poverty, you might have thought he was going to join in the misguided attack that the former VP candidate was being racist.
Especially when Maher read this quote:
"When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."
Except that Maher was fooling his guests. The quote was actually from the first lady: "It does sound like Michelle Obama is agreeing with Paul Ryan."
So why, he asked, should a white person get beat up for saying something similar?
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.