Aaron Sorkin asks media for forgiveness
New York Times to Nate Silver: You’re wrong! (About the midterms)
Okay, it’s not exactly a smackdown.
But make no mistake: The New York Times is declaring emphatically that it’s moved on from the Nate Silver era.
You’re predicting the Republicans are favored to take over the Senate? Take that, buddy! We’re picking the Dems.
Now I’m not suggesting that the Times huffed and puffed and tried to come up with a different outcome than its former wunderkind. But it’s interesting that the paper’s launch of its new blog — The Upshot — blazed a different trail than Silver’s 538.
Silver, you may recall, is the data guru who gained a major following when he worked at the Times, especially after he accurately forecast President Obama’s reelection. But he decamped for ESPN when the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal. Executive Editor Jill Abramson has said that Silver’s lawyer proclaimed him the prettiest girl at the party, to which she responded: “I'm very sorry, but the New York Times is always the prettiest girl at the party.”
When Silver relaunched his 538 site, he got hammered by some on the left for predicting a 60 percent chance that the GOP will capture the Senate this fall. And Times people like Paul Krugman have criticized his new site.
Now comes The Upshot, run by former Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt, with its own “statistical election-forecasting machine.”
And that machine, after clanking into action, says the Democrats have a 51 percent chance of keeping control of the Senate. About the same odds as a coin flip, says the paper.
“The Republicans’ chances have been declining in recent weeks, falling from a recent high of 54 percent. This is mostly due to some unfavorable polls in Arkansas and Iowa,” the Upshot says.
In projecting that Democrat Kay Hagan has a 53 percent chance of holding on in North Carolina but that Mary Landrieu has only a 36 percent chance of surviving in Louisiana, the model considers “the candidates’ political experience, fund-raising, a state’s past election results and national polling.”
What’s missing is any narrative or color about the Senate races. It’s basically all charts.
As for the rest of the site, it’s the latest entry in the cottage industry of “data-driven” journalism, along with Ezra Klein (who moved from the Washington Post to Vox) and others.
My initial impression is that The Upshot is ambitious but … kinda sober and dry. Here’s one lead:
“If you want to understand the 2014 midterm elections, remember this simple fact about American politics: There just aren’t that many swing voters.”
And a writer whose sister ran in the Berlin Marathon reduces it to, well, data:
“What’s so special about running an oddly specific and arbitrary distance (26 miles, 385 yards, which is roughly the distance that the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran to Athens to report news of a victory from the front) within an equally odd and arbitrary period of time?”
Silver’s 538, meanwhile, has a piece on the Boston Red Sox being the slowest team in the slowest major sport (its average game took 3 hours and 15 minutes).
We’ll see which site has the best batting average over time — and whether there’s a broader audience than just wonks.
Aaron Sorkin asks media for forgiveness
Many journalists panned "The Newsroom" when the HBO show debuted, and as he prepares for the third and final season this fall, Aaron Sorkin wants to make amends.
At the Tribeca Film Festival, according to Buzzfeed, the man who also created "The West Wing" and other hit shows held forth:
“I’m going to let you all stand in for everyone in the world, if you don’t mind. I think you and I got off on the wrong foot with The Newsroom and I apologize and I’d like to start over,” Sorkin told the audience after interviewer (and former Obama speech writer) Jon Favreau asked about what he’s learned about the media doing the series. “I think that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I did not set the show in the recent past in order to show the pros how it should have been done. That was and remains the furthest thing from my mind. I set the show in the recent past because I didn’t want to make up fake news. It was going to be weird if the world that these people were living in did not in any way resemble the world that you were living in … Also, I wanted the option of having a terrific dynamic that you can get when the audience knows more than the characters do… So, I wasn’t trying to and I’m not capable of teaching a professional journalist a lesson. That wasn’t my intent and it’s never my intent to teach you a lesson or try to persuade you or anything.”
What really struck me, whether you like “The Newsroom” and its crusading anchor Will McAvoy or not, is Sorkin’s candid description of TV’s sausage-making:
“The problem is with television, the schedule’s so ferocious. It’s so fast … We have airdates. We’re working backwards. There are airdates that have to be hit and you have to write when you’re not writing well and then you have to point a camera at it. So, with everything, we shoot my first drafts and you just have to live with, There’s bad writing out there. We had to do it. This is what you signed up for. It’s kind of like M*A*S*H unit … We just want to stop the bleeding.”
Now you know that there’s blood behind the scenes.
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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.