Nate Silver on How the Media Influences Elections | Conversations with Tyler

Nate Silver on How the Media Influences Elections | Conversations with Tyler


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Mike Bliley. I’m a
law student here, and I get my coverage of the election exclusively from FiveThirtyEight.
[laughter] AUDIENCE MEMBER: I do that largely because
of the unbiased nature, except for Harry’s unabashed love for Chris Christie.
[laughter] AUDIENCE MEMBER: I noticed that specifically
in your debate coverage, one of the things that you all always mention is that the mainstream
media’s portrayal of the debate matters more than anything else. When they say that
someone wins, that coverage carries, and then at the end of those pieces, you and your staff
put together grades for how the candidates did.
You may see where I’m going with this. You strike me as someone who would rather predict
rather than influence, but do you see yourself playing into this zeitgeist where you could
carry some weight in this election? SILVER: That’s why the primaries, although
they’re fun, are a little tricky. The general election people are fairly sensible and retreat
to their corners, but the primaries are so momentum-driven, that it’s a little bit
weird. I’m sure people do read what we say and so forth. It’s not the type of influence
that I want. At the same time, the fact is that all news
coverage is influential, and I would say at the very least, we promise some self-awareness,
that we’re aware that the way the events are covered by the press can affect voters’
views. Sometimes the press can be surprised that it doesn’t go the way they expect,
but you can have these big feedback loops. I’m surprised how difficult it is. I think
one big edge we have — I’m glad that you read us — but I think one big edge
we have over, say, the New York Times or something is that we can talk about the media as a political
actor. We are the media, too, and so I’m aware
of the circularity of that. Frankly, I think one reason why during the primaries sometimes
the conservative sites are more interesting to me than liberal sites, is that they also
start off being more suspicious of the media, sometimes in ways that I think are wrong,
like about the polls in 2012. But I think having that skepticism and seeing
the media as a political actor instead of a benevolent umpire is to a first approximation
the right way to do things, and that’s reflected in our coverage, I guess sometimes at the
risk of being a little bit hypocritical, potentially. We do try and be very transparent about what
we think is a fact, what’s an opinion, what’s an analysis, what is a provocation. One reason
why I like your blog is that you have a lot of provocations. Sometimes you put the Tyrone
label on it, but it’s clear what they are. It’s clear that they’re provocations meant
to incite discussion and debate, and so we’ll have a few of those, too, at times.
Speaking in the first person, I think, is important, and breaking from the voice of
God where “A storm cloud gathered on New Hampshire today, and the voters decided that — .”
Speaking as a subjective individual trying to understand what the objective world is
like is a lot of what we’re all about. It’s not for everyone, but I think that
should be reflected at least in the tone and approach of our coverage, even where we wind
up getting things wrong in the end.

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