Chris Rock: We need “bullet control”


Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.


“The one thing they understand is losing.”

The oft-hysterical Andrew Sullivan (barely) survived this year’s election season and was downright giddy on last night’s live taping of the Colbert Report:


Anticipating the election fallout

Andrew Sullivan wonders if the delusional elements on the American right will come to their collective senses post-Tuesday:

Yesterday, I tried not to think about the election for a day. The off-grid-because-no-grid experience helped me see there was little use at this point in obsessing about the tiniest of details that will be washed away by whatever reality flushes out on Tuesday or thereafter.

But that flush will be instructive. The narrative in the GOP blogosphere is of imminent triumph, even landslide. All the independents are surging toward Romney, the swing states are trending Romney, and the total failure of Obama’s four years is so obvious you have to be a liar to believe that deficits have slightly declined on his watch, despite a collapse in revenues caused by the Great Recession. And so state after state is falling to Romney even as I type. Hinderaker – who still believes that George W Bush was a great president – sees one outlier poll in Pennsylvania as something that will be “sending chills down David Axelrod’s spine”. It’s one poll – and the only one that doesn’t give Obama a clear edge. The poll of polls puts Pennsylvania as 50 percent Obama, 45 percent Romney, and it’s been very stable. Minnesota? That’s also got Hinderaker atwitter: he thinks both Minnesota and Pennsylvania could both “very possibly end up in the red column.” All the polling suggests otherwise – but I guess they’re all rigged.

It’s not so much that the polls can’t be wrong — they can — but that the narrative Sullivan references above is so at odds with the overwhelming statistical consensus that, barring a very big surprise on Tuesday, truth will have to be reckoned with on the conservative end of our political spectrum. And it’ll be a long time in coming.

Mittmentum’s got it backwards

Brendan Nyhan at the Columbia Journalism Review gets it right where most of the presidential campaign reporters have not:

The notion that Romney still had “momentum” weeks after his early October gains in the polls has now been debunkedbynumerouscommentatorsandacademics. And while that pushback is increasingly reflected in campaign-trail accounts, it is worth taking a closer look at why coverage of Romney’s “momentum” went wrong and what it tells us about the weaknesses of campaign journalism.

First, few reporters are knowledgeable about statistics or quantitative analysis. It is admittedly difficult to parse all the polls that are released at the national and state levels, but that’s why reporters should draw on the high-quality polling aggregation models being updated daily by Stanford’s Simon Jackman at HuffPost Pollster and Emory’s Drew Linzer at Votamatic. Relying on the best polling averages is especially important given the human tendency to find patterns consistent with our expectations, which may lead journalists to pay attention to—and cover—those survey results that are consistent with the Romney “momentum” narrative.

Likewise, journalists may be misled by the analogy to momentum during primary campaigns. As we saw during the Republican nomination contest, preferences among candidates can swing dramatically as voters seek to avoid wasting their vote by shifting to the candidate who seems most competitive. But the logic of strategic voting is not relevant to general elections that are dominated by the two major parties. In these cases, “momentum” is a largely meaningless term. Events like conventions and debates can cause brief movements in the polls, but the public’s preferences tend to stabilize relatively quickly after such shifts, which may even fade over time rather than growing in the sense that “momentum” implies.

A third factor is the role of incentives. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis antagonizedseveral of his colleagues in the political press with a column attributing what he considered the exaggerated coverage of Romney’s “trajectory” (i.e., momentum) to the media’s desire for a compelling narrative. The media bias debate has taught us that arguments over journalists’ conscious intentions are unproductive, but professional and commercial incentives do exist for journalists to emphasize the drama of a race. By whatever conscious or unconscious means, these may increase journalists’ susceptibility to a “momentum” narrative despite its tenuous basis in fact.

Finally, there’s the way that journalists cover the horse race. Traditionally, campaign reporters attend campaign events and seek to infer which campaign is winning, which is losing, and why. (Dickerson’s case that “Romney is peaking at the right time,” which acknowledges the tie in the polls, is based on enthusiastic crowds at his rallies.) Even though Obama remains in a stronger position in the Electoral College, his post-Oct. 3 strategy looks to journalists like the approach of a losing campaign, whereas Romney and his campaign aides are not just trying to convince reporters that they are surging but acting like it. When these campaign optics seem not to line up with the publicly available numbers, journalists too often discount the data, assuming that the campaigns must know something from their private polling that the media doesn’t.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the alert.

The Obama I remember

It’s the same one Andrew Sullivan remembers (in response to a Peggy Noonan column blaming the president for the rabid partisanship that characterizes Washington today):

Funny how the first group of non-pols that Obama sat down with were leading conservative writers, like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer (the liberals came second); that he asked Rick Warren to give the invocation at his Inauguration; that his stimulus was a third tax cuts (the only big tax cuts Republicans have ever voted against in my memory); that his healthcare reform was not single-payer, but one modeled on Mitt Romney’s moderate version in Massachusetts; that he has given Israel more military and technological support than any previous president; that his foreign policy is now praised by his opponent; that he killed bin Laden; and gave a speech urging freedom in the Arab world in his first few months, and that popular democratic revolutions broke out in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya on his watch. Funny also how one of the first things Obama did was to extend the Bush tax cuts – such an obvious partisan move designed to shut Republican ideas out of his agenda…

More to the point, the set of actions I have outlined above could quite easily have been George W. Bush’s agenda (or David Cameron’s, if he were on the right of his own party). There was plenty of compromise by Obama from the beginning, both symbolically and substantively. But a Republican decision was made that, even in the worst recession since the 1930s (whose impact on unemployment was devastating) not a single Republican House vote would go for the stimulus. It shocked me at the time, coming so soon after such a big election. I was naive enough to think that an emergency action that prevented a second Great Depression was something the opposition party might have supported, after losing an election badly to a newly elected president in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. I naively believed that just as a group of Democrats had supported Ronald Reagan’s massive tax cut because they thought he had a mandate for one, a group of House Republicans might put country before party and give the man who ran on bipartisanship a chance.

Instead, they set out from Day One to destroy him, because they knew that if his moderation and modern cultural identity succeeded, their reactionary radicalism would be sidelined for good. And Rove’s method is always to see what your party’s own worst flaw is among the public and, with a straight face, accuse your opponent of it.

You know what we’re fighting in this election? That cumulative, snow-balling, post-modern, cynical faction of deceit and partisan amnesia. If we are to get past the Cold Civil War we are in, the defeat of the rigidly ideological and theiological GOP is vital.

Amen, brother. Obama’s greatest mistake was to harbor any illusions whatsoever that the Republican Party was even remotely interested in governing the country like a responsible group of elected representatives.

Trees of the world, rejoice!

Newsweek is shutting down its print version at the end of the year:

Tina Brown, founder of the Daily Beast Web site and the driving force behind its merger with Newsweek, announced the move on Thursday in a message on the Daily Beast.

“We are announcing this morning an important development at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013. As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue,” Ms. Brown said in a message co-written with Baba Shetty, the recently hired chief executive.

The all-digital version of the magazine will be called Newsweek Global and operate on a paid subscription model. The name Newsweek, in spite of its trouble in print, still has value in terms of international licensing, as well as several conferences Ms. Brown has created.

Andrew Sullivan, whose Dish blog is part of the Tina Brown-run Daily Beast family that controls Newsweek, gives his take:

…[W]hen asked my opinion at Newsweek about print and digital, I urged taking the plunge as quickly as possible. Look: I chose  digital over print 12 years ago, when I shifted my writing gradually online, with this blog and now blogazine. Of course a weekly newsmagazine on paper seems nuts to me. But it takes guts to actually make the change. An individual can, overnight. An institution is far more cumbersome. Which is why, I believe, institutional brands will still be at a disadvantage online compared with personal ones. There’s a reason why Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are named after human beings. It’s because when we read online, we migrate to read people, not institutions. Social media has only accelerated this development, as everyone with a Facebook page now has a mini-blog, and articles or posts or memes are sent by email or through social networks or Twitter.

And as magazine stands disappear as relentlessly as bookstores, I also began to wonder what a magazine really is. Can it even exist online? It’s a form that’s only really been around for three centuries – and it was based on a group of people associating with each other under a single editor and bound together with paper and staples. At The New Republic in the 1990s, I knew intuitively that most people read TRB, the Diarist and the Notebook before they dug into a 12,000 word review of a book on medieval Jewish mysticism. But they were all in it together. You couldn’t just buy Kinsley’s perky column. It came physically attached to Leon Wieseltier’s sun-blocking ego.

But since every page on the web is now as accessible as every other page, how do you connect writers together with paper and staples, instead of having readers pick individual writers or pieces and ignore the rest? And the connection between writers and photographers and editors is what a magazine is. It defines it – and yet that connection is now close to gone. Around 70 percent of Dish readers have this page bookmarked and come to us directly. (If you read us all the time and haven’t, please do). You can’t sell bundles anymore; and online, it’s hard to sell anything intangible, i.e. words, because the supply is infinite. You no longer control the gate through which readers have to pass and advertizers get to sponsor. No gateway, no magazine, no revenue – and massive costs in print, paper and mailing.

I know a bit about these things, having edited a weekly magazine on paper for five years and running this always-on blogazine for twelve. It’s a different universe now. And to me, the Beast’s decision to put Newsweek Global on a tablet and kill the print edition is absolutely the right one. To do it now also makes sense. To have done it two years ago would have been even better. Why wait?

Felix Salmon is, shall we say, less than convinced that this move is going to work out:

It’s hard to make money in journalism, and even harder to make money in print journalism. But here’s what I don’t understand: invariably, every time a print publication fails, it announces that it’s not going to die, it’s just going to “transition to an all-digital format”. Newsweek, of course, is no exception. But this is supposed to be the clear-eyed, hard-hearted world of Barry Diller:

If doesn’t work out? Move on! “Sell it, write it off, go on to the next thing,” he says.

Once upon a time, Newsweek was a license to print money; from here on in, it will be a drain and a distraction. Merging it into the Daily Beast never made a huge amount of sense, and now it’s being de-merged: instead, its journalism “will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web”. Some of it, I guess, will be syndicated to the Daily Beast.

The chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero.

Well, I suppose we’ll always have TIME for covers like these.

The stakes are high. No, even higher.

The Atlantic Wire‘s Elspeth Reeve delivers a tongue-in-cheek exhortation on tonight’s presidential debate:

However overhyped you think Tuesday’s presidential debate is, the real cold hard truth is that it cannot be hyped enough. The stakes are impossibly high—not just for who gets to be the most powerful person on Earth, but also for the people who get paid to talk about the most powerful person on Earth, which is a powerful though considerably lesser position.

Just try imagining the stakes right now. Are you thinking about the stakes? They’re really high, right? Like these are some of the highest stakes you’ve ever seen. Well scratch that. It’s an optical illusion. The stakes are actually even higher. Unimaginably high stakes even in your imagination. These stakes might be so high they’re overwhelming.


Combatant: The media’s Drama Club

Mission: The opposite of the “everything sucks” caucus — the drama club must say this matters immensely. Members must have the most extreme reaction to debate, and make the most concrete prediction based on it — an extremely dangerous move because you could be proven wrong in just a few weeks.

Strategy: Express your shock and horror that the debate was the most indisputably consequential moment in the presidential election for your candidate — because he blew it.  The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan had a widely-noticed freakout after the first debate. He’s already previewing an eruption following tonight’s that could rival the first. “The ground Obama has lost in Oct. is vast, underscored by new #s on lost female voters. Everything hinges on tonight,” he tweets. Variant: Express rapturous joy at your guy’s victory. WARNING: Joy must be rapturous for your reaction to get attention, since it’s expected you’ll be biased toward thinking your team’s awesome.

Pre-debate jitters

Andrew Sullivan has them:

What Obama has to do is show how he is the change, how the GOP is determined to block it, and how he needs re-election to get it done. In the first debate, he was so defensive, so determined to protect his record, so eager not to look smug, he let Romney make the arguments for change. And that’s what excited voters. If Obama allows Romney to offer change versus more-of-the-same, he’s toast. Instead he has to remind us that he has changed the direction for America but that he needs more time to change it some more.

To wit:

more infrastructure investment in energy (cleaner carbon and non-carbon), transportation, and education, all designed for future growth; a shared long-term Grand Bargain – in more revenues and less entitlement and defense spending – to get us back on fiscal track; and a preference in all policies for building the middle class. I’d also favor a new policy: commit to break up the biggest banks, as Jon Huntsman suggested in the primaries. If I had my druthers, I’d also eliminate every tax deduction past a certain percentage of income.

It’s harder to represent change when you are the incumbent. But when you’ve been stymied by the House GOP for two years, you have a decent excuse.

New political verb of the day: Gillarding


Dish blogger Andrew Sullivan (who’s spent more time in the news lately than he’s normally used to) showcases the above video clip of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard verbally body-slamming the leader of the opposition party in the Parliament, Tony Abbott, for his sexism and misogyny. Sullivan then applies Gillard’s fiery speech to the American election and, in the meantime, coins a neologism:

Obama has trained his whole life not to be angry, so as to deflect and foil the raw racism of Hannity et al. But Gillard keeps her cool in tone while the rhetoric is brutal. Biden and Obama need to calmly but relentlessly tear into the inconsistencies, lies and cynicism behind Romney-Ryan. Expose the abortion reversal; expose the Medicare reversal; expose the pre-existing conditions lie; demand to see the math behind Romney’s ludicrous budgetary plan, and if he won’t provide it (because it’s impossible), call him out as the principle-free, chameleon salesman he is.

Obama let Romney shape-shift without rebuttal. Never again. The idea that the same policies that brought this country to its knees by 2009 should be put on steroids for the next four years should provoke outrage, not gentle disagreement. The fact that we cannot even know if Romney would actually do any of it because he is such a shameless liar and shape-shifter should also provoke amazement and incredulity, not good manners. Bill Clinton exposed the empty center of Romney with a wide knowing grin. But however he decides to do it, Obama needs to Gillard Romney in the next debate. To his face.