Glasnost and Perestroika

John’s already mentioned Margaret Sullivan’s take on Nate Silver’s bet, but I wanted to add one thing. When Sullivan was hired to replace the previous, awful, public editor at the Times, and after she wrote a couple of sharp columns, she got a lot of good press. Even though she’s pretty good, she’s still the Gorbachev of that operation–she knows there’s a problem, but she’s still looking at it from the perspective of an insider, so she underestimates how much power her institution has lost.

The first tell is her belief that the Times bestowed some credibility on Nate Silver, who, as she mentions, “has a desk in The Times’s newsroom” and is seen as a “Times journalist”. I think that’s almost exactly backwards. Silver’s made himself credible with quality predictions, and I’m sure many of you were readers of his long before he joined the Times. Moreover, the Times’ Silver hire happened at a time when newspapers were struggling to show that they “got it” when it came to digital, and his hire gave the digital side of their politics coverage instant credibility.

The next piece of glasnost is her view that Silver’s bet with Joe Scar is “inappropriate for a Times journalist” because it might give the impression that he’s a partisan trying to sway the election. Silver’s bet is about him being right, not Obama winning. My guess is that he’d make the same bet if Romney were up in his forecast. His allegiance is to having the right model, and his ideology takes a back seat.

If you think that being a “Times journalist” is some kind of magic elixir of credibility for a guy whose blog was already widely read and quoted, and that the issue with Silver is left vs. right, instead of innumerate establishment political journalist vs. fact-based political journalism, then you are a member of the old guard, no matter how smart you are about journalism and truth.

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83 replies
  1. 1
    TR says:

    Exactly right.

    The Times is the old gray lady here, riding on a generations old name but without any fortune in the bank. She married a young self-made man with a fortune, already well respected in the world, and yet feels like it’s her who’s stooping and him who’s benefitting. Delusional.

  2. 2
    Warren Terra says:

    I still think that the only inappropriate thing about the bet Silver offered was that it was even odds. Quite unseemly. A more generous person would have offered a bet according to the odds they believed applied to the contest.

  3. 3
    Betty Cracker says:

    Agreed. Silver built his own brand with accuracy, and the NYT glommed onto it, not the other way around.

  4. 4
    a.j. says:

    Snap.

    One of the clearest summaries of what’s up that i’ve seen in a while.

    Jay Rosen should see this.

  5. 5
    Linda says:

    It reminds me of the Maureen Dowd interview of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, in which she was surprised that they didn’t seem intimidated by being interviewed by someone from the NEW YORK TIMES! Like the 2 of them weren’t bigger.

  6. 6
    Napoleon says:

    Oh and for the percentage of people here who have an inexplicable dislike of Silver and like to accuse him of changing since he bagan “working at the NY Times” check out what Josh Marshall says on the matter where he reveals that in fact Silver still ownes 538 he is just being paid by them to lease it.

  7. 7
    Paul says:

    If you think that being a “Times journalist” is some kind of magic elixir of credibility for a guy whose blog was already widely read and quoted, and that the issue with Silver is left vs. right, instead of innumerate establishment political journalist vs. fact-based political journalism, then you are a member of the old guard, no matter how smart you are about journalism and truth.

    I take it Ms Sullivan never heard of Judith Miller. I take it Ms Sullivan wasn’t around during the run-up to the disastrous Iraq war and the Times role in cheerleading us going to a war we shouldn’t have been in.

  8. 8
    Paul says:

    If you think that being a “Times journalist” is some kind of magic elixir of credibility for a guy whose blog was already widely read and quoted, and that the issue with Silver is left vs. right, instead of innumerate establishment political journalist vs. fact-based political journalism, then you are a member of the old guard, no matter how smart you are about journalism and truth.

    I take it Ms Sullivan never heard of Judith Miller. I take it Ms Sullivan wasn’t around during the run-up to the disastrous Iraq war and the Times role in cheerleading us going to a war we shouldn’t have been in.

  9. 9
    jayackroyd says:

    Right ho. Perfectly put, Mistermix.

  10. 10
    Hunter Gathers says:

    I refuse to take the NYT seriously at all anymore. Any organization that pays Ross Douthat to do anything other than clean toilets would be better off making a full conversion to a Clown College. And Bobo would make the perfect Dean of such a place.

  11. 11
    Windy City says:

    Very good jobs report this morning (relative to the new normal). Better than expected numbers. Despite the unemployment rate ticking up to 7.9%, 171,000 were added in October. This is excellent news for John McCain.

  12. 12
    MomSense says:

    Jayson Blair and Judith Miller are all that need to be said on this matter. Suck it Ms. Sullivan.

  13. 13
    scav says:

    Oh, the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be,
    Ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be.
    The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be,
    Many long years ago.

  14. 14
    jayackroyd says:

    @Betty Cracker: ANONYMOUS accuracy. Just some diarist at DailyKos. I remember getting a call from one of our mainstream media luminaries wanting to know whether this Poblano guy was for real.

  15. 15
    HRA says:

    If I have it right, Ms. Sullivan was at the Buffalo News before she went to the NYT. I decline to comment on her abilities or frailities.

    What I must say is I have followed Nate Silver long enough to know he’s brilliant in his work.

  16. 16
    Elizabelle says:

    And Matt Bai is buying credibility for The New York Times, day after day.

    Not to mention having David Brooks and the lesser Douthat on your very own editorial page.

    Yeah, Nate Silver is “inappropriate.”

    ALTHOUGH: The New York Times is so far superior to the Washington Post. Must give them credit for what they do get right. Way less stenography. Maybe they learned something from the Judith Miller episode.

    Besides: Paul Krugman.

  17. 17
    jayackroyd says:

    @Warren Terra: Even money is Joe Scar’s odds. So Nate is completely justified in offering that bet.

  18. 18
    Elizabelle says:

    in moderation?

    Not sure why …

  19. 19
    Napoleon says:

    Breaking, 171k jobs added, unemployment rate up to 7.9%

  20. 20
    russell says:

    the NYT used to have an ombudsman, someone who listened to the concerns and issues of the readership and communicated those to NYT management and editors.

    now they have a public editor, someone who tells the readers why the NYT is right and they are wrong.

    Sullivan’s an improvement over the other folks they’ve had in that spot, but that’s a low bar.

    the Times’ credibility went down the crapper with Judith Miller, and has never really come back. they hire good writers, but I don’t think anyone takes them remotely seriously as an impartial journalistic voice anymore.

    they should walk softly with Silver, he could take his bat and ball and go elsewhere anytime he likes.

  21. 21
    mistermix says:

    @Elizabelle: There was a blip in the spam filter, fixed now.

  22. 22
    jibeaux says:

    @jayackroyd: Yeah, this was kind of evident to me. The media is vested in making this a toss up, a coin flip, and Joe’s going along with it. I think Nate is making the point that it’s lazy analysis, and if you really believed it then you’d take a bet at 50-50 odds.

  23. 23
    Paul says:

    @Windy City:

    Very good jobs report this morning (relative to the new normal). Better than expected numbers. Despite the unemployment rate ticking up to 7.9%, 171,000 were added in October. This is excellent news for John McCain.

    Don’t worry. Right-wing clown and conspiracy theorist Jack Welch will soon be accusing “Obama’s boys in Chicago” of once again having cooked the numbers.

  24. 24
    jayackroyd says:

    MSM hilarity:

    http://election.princeton.edu/.....ov2012.php

    Sam Wang on Cilizza:

    He writes: “…the absolute necessity for Romney to win the state if he wants to be president – leads us to move it back to the ‘tossup’ category.” Now here is some problematic reasoning. Romney needs Ohio, so therefore it’s a toss-up.

  25. 25
    Gypsy howell says:

    See, what you’re missing here in understanding Sullivan’s response is that she and the NYT apparently don’t believe it is part of a journalist’s job to be “right.” Their job is to appear “nonpartisan” and as we all know, the facts have a liberal bias.

  26. 26
    Gypsy howell says:

    See, what you’re missing here in understanding Sullivan’s response is that she and the NYT apparently don’t believe it is part of a journalist’s job to be “right.” Their job is to appear “nonpartisan” and as we all know, the facts have a liberal bias.

  27. 27
    Gypsy howell says:

    See, what you’re missing here in understanding Sullivan’s response is that she and the NYT apparently don’t believe it is part of a journalist’s job to be “right.” Their job is to appear “nonpartisan” and as we all know, the facts have a liberal bias.

  28. 28
    Cermet says:

    WTF?! We all know ‘facts’ (read math and reality) have a liberal bias and Nate uses facts; hence, and QED he is a liberal. Also, the NYT’s is liberal so, double truthiness he is liberal – so shut up, that’s why.

  29. 29
    Gypsy howell says:

    Sorry about the triple post. Damn iPad and FYWP.

  30. 30
    Paul says:

    @jayackroyd:

    Goodness. With that logic Texas is a toss-up. After all, if Obama won Texas, Ohio wouldn’t even matter.

  31. 31
    dmsilev says:

    @jayackroyd: There’s a strange sort of circular logic which drives idiotic statements like that. It goes “The campaigns by definition only contest tossup states. Romney is contesting Ohio. Therefore Ohio is a tossup state. If it wasn’t, Romney wouldn’t be contesting it.”

    The other option of “Romney is behind in Ohio, and he needs to close that gap to have a good shot at winning” for some reason doesn’t seem to appeal.

  32. 32
    jibeaux says:

    @jayackroyd: Not exactly hiding the ball, are they.

  33. 33
    Tim C. says:

    Yes, the only possible response to this is “JUDITH EEEFFFING MILLER!!!” The old gray lady let herself be used as stenographers for warmongers and torturers. Rowdy behavior from a statistics nerd really isn’t the issue anymore.

  34. 34
    geg6 says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    And Nate, obviously smarter than anyone at the Times, kept ownership of his blog and methodology. He can tell the Times to go take a flying leap and Margaret Sullivan to go fuck herself. I certainly hope he does.

    There is more than a little bit of a parallel between the bloviators in the Emessem and the wails of fury of the white male these days. They both see themselves as embattled and on the verge of irrelevance. Couldn’t happen to nicer people and I gleefully await the day when the irrelevance finally becomes clear to both groups.

  35. 35
    jayackroyd says:

    @jibeaux: Can’t really go with this: http://audiko.net/ringtone/str.....039;s+Over!?ring=12982596

    and also get viewers/readers.

    But there’s a serious issue here as well. The story should be something like “the only way Romney can win is through electoral fraud and voter suppression.” And THAT’s a story they simply can’t write.

  36. 36
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Warren Terra: Except the bet was on whether Mourning Joe was bullshitting or not. If Nate had been skewing for that bet it would have been something like $1000 to $30.

    Seriously, though, the bet wasn’t about who was going to be president, it was about whether Nate’s analysis is accurate.

  37. 37
    weaselone says:

    @Warren Terra:

    Nate’s personally projecting the odds at 4:1 Obama, but the broader pundit market has it set as a 1:1 horse race. If Vegas is giving even odds on a Falcons:Chiefs match up, and badmouthing you for believing otherwise they need to put up or shut up and accept your bet at the odds they’re peddling.

  38. 38
    Nell says:

    Eh, I’d rather read Nate Silver without the NYT branding across the top. And every column by David Brooks makes me question their whole enterprise — how can they give someone so stupid a regular column without there being huge problems lurking elsewhere?

  39. 39
    Elizabelle says:

    @mistermix:

    Thank you.

  40. 40
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    Nailed it. I read Silver more than I read the Times. I go there for him, not them. While Nate is partisan, he would bet on Rmoney winning if the numbers showed it. Sullivan doesn’t understand this because she’s a partisan.

    For the Villagers.

  41. 41
    JMG says:

    It should be noted that Times Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt and senior political reporter John Harwood posted vigorous defenses of Silver on Twitter last night. They rather outrank Sullivan in the Times’ pecking order.

  42. 42
    Bill Hicks says:

    The reaction to 538 is just like the reaction of baseball to sabermetrics (Nate Silver being one of the sabermetricians). One of the most hilarious blogs was firejoemorgan.com written by baseball fans who were stats literate (and writers for the office if I remember correctly). If you have some time to waste, go check out the old posts and be entertained and amazed at how ridiculous the response to sabermetrics was at one time.

  43. 43
    Ecks says:

    This post is a grade 1 example of readership capture. Everything it says is true, but only from the perspective of highly informed close followers of left blogistan. From our POV Nate is the smart one, and the times are a moderately passable forum for a mix of excellent (Kthug), terrible (Doubtable) and meh (most of rest) writing.

    There’s no question that the NYT’s status has declined from being The Word to just a pretty good newspaper, but in most of the rest of the world they are a bigger brand name than 538. They just are. More Americans would recognize them as an authority than would recognize Nate Silver.

    And her point on why it could have been inappropriate is not that he was doing anything wrong when you know the full facts, but that journalists, like many other professions do have a duty to be seen as above the fray. Think about lawyers, auditors, executors, there are lots of jobs where you have to maintain not just neutrality, but also the appearance of neutrality. If the only think you knew about Nate Silver was that he was a political analyst, and he had been putting money on Obama to win, and then, oh yes, he is making the claim that he’s done a bunch of math, and is telling us he thinks Obama will win, and that’s all you know, then it’s very easy for you to start thinking “well of course he’s saying Obama will win, he’d lose money if he didn’t”.

    You and I know better. We know he made the prediction first, and only put money down on it later when challenged on the prediction. But many of the Times readers (and potential readers) don’t know that, and aren’t particularly bothered to find out. They’ll just draw a summary conclusion, make a harsh judgment and never think about it again. That’s just how it goes in the real world. So, yeah, the Times has to consider that.

  44. 44

    I sent in a comment at Sullivan’s article.

    Essentially I said that Silver is using math and science to seek the truth and has the confidence to stand behind it. All of the other so-called journalists at the NYTs don’t even seek the truth; all they do is print what two sides of an argument say.

    I also stated that Sullivan is a perfect example of what is wrong in today’s media. Maybe that is why my comment has yet to be printed.

  45. 45
    Lee says:

    @Napoleon:

    When I found out Silver went to the NYT I was actually a bit disappointed in him for doing that.

    When I found out that he is just letting them lease the name, that disappointment evaporated and much respect added.

  46. 46
    Elizabelle says:

    Never mind the NYTimes, I still find it incredible that NBC News, broadcast channel, is throwing its credibility away, hand over fist.

    Listened a little to Chuck Todd and David Gregory on Morning Joe today (I know, I know). They could not emphasize enough what a tossup Ohio is, and that nobody knows.

    My rightwing relative finds NBC News to be his only credible source of news, outside the Fox bubble.

    I wish we lived in a world where Todd, Gregory, and Chris Cillizza had jobs in public relations, or even waiting tables, and were not considered major league journalists.

    If Nate Silver helps bring that about, more power to him. And to Sam Wang. And to the other people who have EARNED our trust.

    We still need the New York Times. And a functioning media. Republicans cannot be allowed to corrupt and break every institution.

  47. 47
    The Moar You Know says:

    I’d love nothing more than to see Nate leave the Times. I think it hurts his reputation by being there.

    They’re the paper of Judith Miller, David Brooks and Iraq lies, a totally discredited rag save for Krugman – who ought to leave as well. Nate’s the voice of mathematical accuracy, and he can back up every statement he’s ever made with facts.

  48. 48
    Nied says:

    Between the sudden dust up about Nate Silver and the controversy about whether Romney’s tax plan actually adds up, I’m starting to think this election has become a generation defining struggle between three different groups: Those that understand how math and numbers work, and those that don’t.

  49. 49
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Sullivan is another worthless hack, defending Pravda on the Hudson to her last breath.

  50. 50
    bushworstpresidentever says:

    “Times journalist” Does she include Judy Miller in the run up to the Iraq debacle? Or how about Bill Keller holding back news about Bush’s warrant-less wiretapping until after the 2004 election? Please give me a break.

    And I say this as someone who has been reading the Times daily for at least 50 years and has been a delivery customer of the Times for almost that long. ANd as also someone who has been reading Nate Silver back at his old blog before the 2008 election and probably before anyone at the Times had even heard of him.

  51. 51
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Not to mention the paper of one of the most vile hacks in the history of “Journalism”, the man who gave us the totally phony “scandals” of WhiteWater and Wen Ho Lee, Jeff Gerth.

  52. 52
    Steeplejack says:

    @jayackroyd:

    Linky no work. I fix: “It’s over!” ringtone.

  53. 53
    RSA says:

    @Warren Terra:

    I still think that the only inappropriate thing about the bet Silver offered was that it was even odds.

    That was exactly my thought. It would have emphasized that Silver’s bet is based on the numbers (“Why did he offer those odds, specifically?”) and not on his personal preferences. Who wouldn’t take a bet, if they could afford it, with an 80/20 payout on what Scarborough sees as a coin flip?

  54. 54
    Schlemizel says:

    @Elizabelle: I wish we lived in a world where Todd, Gregory, and Chris Cillizza had jobs in public relations, or even waiting tables, and were not considered major league journalists.

    In a just world they would be trolling the mens room at the Grayhound depot. Its the only job they are suited for and the approximate level of clientele they have earned.

  55. 55
    Bobby Thomson says:

    If you think that being a “Times journalist” is some kind of magic elixir of credibility for a guy whose blog was already widely read and quoted, and that the issue with Silver is left vs. right, instead of innumerate establishment political journalist vs. fact-based political journalism, then you are a member of the old guard, no matter how smart you are about journalism and truth.

    No, if she doesn’t get that, she’s just a blind squirrel who isn’t that smart, period.

  56. 56
    Jorge says:

    Speaking of poll stuff-Ras just moved two points down on Romney to a 47-47 tie. Looks like he might be making his usual election day adjustments. I’ve come to see him as clock that is always 5 minutes fast – you know it isn’t right – but it gives you enough of a psychological push to keep you on time.

  57. 57
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @RSA: No, you’re both wrong. The point of offering even odds was to smoke out Joe Scarborough, Intern Killer as being full of shit.

  58. 58
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @Nied: I see what you did there.

  59. 59
    waratah says:

    Thank you mistermix, I followed 538 daily through the 2008 election and I am pleased to see your post.

  60. 60
    Soonergrunt says:

    The Times brought Silver on in order to enhance their own credibility, not the other way around. They would do well to remember that.

  61. 61
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    And yet their “Public Advocate” is right now currently working to undermine that very effort.

    Village loyalty to the end, even if it is self-immolating.

  62. 62
    Frivolous says:

    Yeah. I’m one of those who believes that the New York Times needs Nate Silver much more than Nate Silver needs the NYT.

    Margaret Sullivan should be deferring to Silver.

  63. 63
    blingee says:

    Thanks for that amazing insight mistermix kreskin. How is that “Palin is running for prez in 2012” prediction of yours workin out?

  64. 64
    Bill Arnold says:

    A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit
    Alex Tabarrok via Kevin Drum.

  65. 65
    gwangung says:

    Not to mention the paper of one of the most vile hacks in the history of “Journalism”, the man who gave us the totally phony “scandals” of WhiteWater and Wen Ho Lee, Jeff Gerth.

    Not to mention lighting off that phony accusation of China influencing American politics through first generation immigrants.

    ‘Twas that which made him the villain of a Pulitzer finalist play….

  66. 66
    Bevstersf says:

    I haven’t read Silver since he went to the Times, so low is my opinion of the Times.

  67. 67
    Count Ulster says:

    I still have no idea why Nate Silver would want to be associated with the dipshits at the NY Times. Tone deaf, clueless, establishment hacks — who lean left, don’t forget, or so I’m told, anyway. And I happen to be from NYC. At least you know why the NY Post and Daily News are lying to you.

  68. 68
    Brachiator says:

    @Tim C.:

    Yes, the only possible response to this is “JUDITH EEEFFFING MILLER

    Nonsense. The Times has published continuously since 1851. Anybody who asserts that the publication is suddenly worthless because of one story is nuts. Even if it involves Judith Miller and the editors who let her pull her egregious bullshit.

    The next piece of glasnost is her view that Silver’s bet with Joe Scar is “inappropriate for a Times journalist” because it might give the impression that he’s a partisan trying to sway the election.

    This is also nuts, but gets close to the problem.

    People are stupid, especially with numbers. And so, you have Balloon Juicers and others who want to treat Silver like a prophet, in part because they are too impatient to actually wait for the actual election, and eagerly treat Silver like an oracle who is giving them an absolutely reliable peek into the future.

    But far, far worse than this are the absolute morans who believe that Silver and others are deliberately twisting polling data to “hide” the supposed “fact” that Romney is really in the lead or who might actually believe the shit spouted by the Times fool, and see Silver as trying to sway the election in favor of the Democrats.

    At the heart of this is the typical childish misunderstanding of what polls actually convey.

    And lurking behind all this hoopla over the use and abuse of statistics probably lurks some conservatives who are simply trying to get Silver dumped because they hate it when anyone provides clear, easy to understand, and relatively unbiased information that simply and elegantly lets people know what’s going on so that they can form their own opinions.

  69. 69
    Linus says:

    Mistermix: I am going to call you out for sloppy use of the apostrophe. You started this piece with “John’s…” when you intended to say “John has…”. Call me an apostrophe cop, but sloppy language is not acceptable, just because you are blogging.

  70. 70
    themann1086 says:

    @Nied: I burst out laughing reading this, and shared it with my parents. You have won one internet.

  71. 71
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    The NYT has a weird institutional fainting-couch mentality towards gambling and booze; given that NYC permits people to put money on the gee-gees, I find that hilarious.

  72. 72
    El Cid says:

    The New York Times happily abandons any pretense of journalistic and editorial integrity just about whenever there’s a good war to be had and enemies to be bombed.

    They’ll mute, transfer, and fire their own reporters if they piss off a good war-mongering administration proud of their death squad friends — as with Ray Bonner reporting the obvious truth of just one particular Salvadoran death squad massacre of civilians.

    Oh, but they’ll apologize for their horrendous support of lies and slaughter a few years later, so, you know, it’s all good.

    They get their journalistic integrity when they practice it, and not because of their publication’s name or how long they’ve been printing.

  73. 73
    Elizabelle says:

    @Nied:

    So perfect. Comment of the thread.

  74. 74
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    @Nied: I’m stealing this.

  75. 75
    fuckwit says:

    @Nied:

    There are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

  76. 76
    Ellyn says:

    I read Mr. Silver’s 538 pre-NYT and I’ll read it post-NYT. Mr. Silver doesn’t need the NYT. Besides, I’m tired of paying 15 bucks a month to read Krugman and Nate Silver.

  77. 77
    Ellyn says:

    @Napoleon:
    Nate Silver is so smart! I thought the NYT bought 538. Good. He can take it with him if he decides he’s had enough NYT bipolarity.

  78. 78
    Joel says:

    @Ecks: You ignored the fact that, while the NYT is bigger than Silver, the same does not apply to Sullivan, who is essentially a nobody outside of insider circles.

  79. 79
    Tim I says:

    I’ve been following Nate Silver’s predictions since he blogged as poblano on DKos. The Times paid him a shitload of money because his 538 blog brought credibility to the Times – an element that has been seriously lacking in the paper’s political reporting for almost two decades.

  80. 80
    Epicurus says:

    A partial list of “Times reporters”:

    Miller, Judith
    Blair, Jayson

    Now, Ms. Sullivan, your point??

  81. 81
    RaflW says:

    I was pissed when Silver went to the Times. This bullshit from Ms. Sullivan could have been predicted from day one. Maybe not the details, but the general cluck-clucking and irrelevance.

    His brand was awesome and I just quite get why (other than $$$) he went to the very grey lady.

  82. 82
    Unsympathetic says:

    I like how the vast majority of comments on Sullivan’s post take Silver’s side.

  83. 83
    jank_w says:

    Long live Poblano!!11 It is great that the NY Times got him where he is today… also too:
    http://onion.com/TzB143

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