Sunday, January 22, 2012

Calling the Horse Race - Why the Media is Irrelevant

Why does the media turn the Presidential election into a horse-race every four years, after promising, every four years, not to do so?

People often ask me, "If you don't watch TeeVee, how could you possibly stay informed?"

To which I reply, "By watching TeeVee, how could you possibly stay informed?"

The television is not information - it is anti-information disguising itself in the cloak of authority.

And the recent primary race for the GOP is case in point.

Every four years, the media, in a spate of hand-wringing, promises, once again, not to turn the election into a "horse race" - trying to call the winners and losers early on, but instead promises to focus on "the issues" and present a fair picture to everyone, so they can decide who will be President.

And every four years, just as Charlie Brown falls for Lucy's football trick, we believe them.  But about 10 minutes into the race, the media says, "Fuck it, let's do the horse-race thing, as it is far easier to do and garners better ratings!"

I guess we like horse-races.

So coming out of the Iowa Caucuses, we are told that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee.  Why?  No offense to Iowans, but your State is largely unpopulated, and the few parts that are, are populated by people who are largely unrepresentative of the rest of the USA.  Iowa is a bellweather of nothing.

And here is where it gets weird.  Romney barely won Iowa, at least from initial reports.  But it was reported as a "clear win" for Romney, which would provide him with "Momentum" into New Hampshire.  Them, a few weeks later, a funny thing happens:

Results for Iowa Republican Caucus (U.S. Presidential Primary)
Jan 03, 2012 (>99% of precincts reporting)
Rick Santorum29,83924.6%
Mitt Romney29,80524.5%
Ron Paul26,03621.4%
Newt Gingrich16,16313.3%
Rick Perry12,55710.3%
Michele Bachmann6,0465%
Jon Huntsman7390.6%

He didn't win.  Some guy named Rick Santorum did.  But the media, never willing to admit it was wrong, still claims that Romney has "momentum" as it Iowa caucuses were basically a "tie" and thus a "win" for Romney.

Huh?  Did I miss something here?  A tie is a "win" for Romney, but when Romney is a few votes ahead, the same "tie" is a "loss" for Santorum?

The deal is, the narrative they wanted to sell us was Romney - that was the "story" and what the media does is fit the facts to the story.

So, on to New Hampshire - another unusual and small State that is hardly representative of the USA (and another largely all-white State, as well).  Now, Mitt Romney was Governor of the neighboring State of Massachusetts and thus would be considered a "home town boy" in New Hampshire.   And early on, most people correctly predicted that this familiarity would give Romney a huge New Hampshire win.   Which it did:

Results for New Hampshire Republican Primary (U.S. Presidential Primary)
Jan 10, 2012 (100% of precincts reporting)
Mitt Romney97,53239.3%
Ron Paul56,84822.9%
Jon Huntsman41,94516.9%
Newt Gingrich23,4119.4%
Rick Santorum23,3629.4%
Rick Perry1,7660.7%

So, now the narrative is complete - Romney is on a roll, and polls show he will take South Carolina, and the media calls the horse race for Romney.  After two oddball, all-white tiny States vote, it is all over - we are told.  In the middle of this coronation, however, the news breaks out that Romney actually lost Iowa, which sort of is buzz-kill to the narrative, so the spin doctors - in the media, not the campaigns - quickly come up with this "a tie for Romney is a win for Romney" bit, as they don't want to be seen as calling the horse-race wrongly.

So Romney is crowned king and we can all rest easy until the late Summer, when the really loathsome attack ads begin (thankfully, I won't be watching TeeVee).  It's all wrapped up!  Then a funny thing happens.  People vote for who they want, not what the media says:

Results for South Carolina Republican Primary (U.S. Presidential Primary)
Jan 21, 2012 (100% of precincts reporting)
Newt Gingrich243,15340.4%
Mitt Romney167,27927.8%
Rick Santorum102,05517%
Ron Paul77,99313%
Rick Perry2,4940.4%

Whoops!  The Romney narrative is shot.  All this "historical precedent" crapola is down the toilet ("Every Republican nominee in the last 10 elections who won both Iowa and New Hampshire go on to win the nomination!" - a "trend" about as silly and irrelevant as the Lincoln/Kennedy "coincidences"  Statistics should be taught in grade school, with no one allowed to graduate until then can recognize specious statistics!).

Wow.  So what does this all mean?  That Gingrich will win?  Or will Romney come from behind?  It means neither.  It means nothing.  And even asking the question shows that you are still in the "horse-race" mentality.

This whole "momentum" garbage is just that - garbage.  And these oddball statistics are just crap - like the Washington Redskins "predicting" the Presidential race.   It is confusing correlation with causation.

If you don't understand the difference yourself, then read this scary tome on the dangers of bread.

So what's the point, then?

The point is, watching television is an utter waste of your time and brain.  It teaches you nothing and tells you nothing.  And in fact, if you start to believe what you see on the TeeVee as "true" you are headed for a world of woe.

And the television is so selective in what it wants to tell you.  For example, you might notice that Ron Paul is pretty consistently showing strong numbers in the three races so far - and yet, he gets less mention in the media that other candidates with even less favorable numbers.  I am not a Ron Paul fan, but it is interesting, nevertheless, how the media has written him off from the get-go.  Not like they are telling you who to vote for or anything, right?

Of course, the electoral silly-season will continue as usual, with more stories about "momentum" and how every Republican nominee who carried States with odd-numbered election days ends up winning the Presidency, on alternate leap years or the year of the Rat, on the Chinese calendar, but only if they have a water Zodiac sign.  And if you watch that shit, you might actually start believing it - or worse yet, the attack ads.

Not watching television is the first step toward reclaiming your life and learning to think on your own.  Believe it or not, there are other sources of information out there than the TeeVee.  And by this, I don't mean right-wing blogs or conspiracy-theory websites.  Rather than watch the horse-race, think about the candidates positions and how they will not only affect you personally, but how they will affect the country, and then make your own independent decision.

And don't limit this to a once-every-four-years kind of thing.  Because, quite frankly, who is elected as Mayor of your home town, or State Representative, or Congressman, is often far more important than who is President.

But if you listen to the TeeVee, you might get the opposite impression.

UPDATE 2022:  The image of the tin toy horse race game is similar to one my Mother had in the 1930's.  You pulled a string and a square shaft mounted to a flywheel pushed ball bearings up a slot on a hill, advancing little tin horses until one "won".  Pretty silly game!