As the late Variety columnist Army Archerd might have said, “Good morning, and congratulations election winners.”
The outcome of Tuesday’s voting was unknown as this column was written, but for this discussion’s purposes, doesn’t really matter. Because, as with any high-profile contest that generates reams of analysis and can only produce one victor (a la “Highlander”), a lot of very public people will wake up Wednesday having been proved terribly, horribly, incontrovertibly wrong.
And there really ought to be some penalty for that.
We live in an age obsessed with data, immersed in digital information. Not only are there sports leagues, but fans with too much spare time have created fantasy versions driven entirely by statistics, divorced from actual games.
Yet for some reason, those in the opinion business are spared the sort of scrutiny they shower on others.
This is not only unfair, but poor customer service. Political pundits, stock-market analysts and sports commentators should come with their own onscreen stat sheets, in much the same way marketers label their products.
Wouldn’t it help if MSNBC or Fox News flashed info like “Has been wrong calling two of the last three presidential elections,” much like knowing a pitcher has a high earned-run average, or a quarterback throws a lot of interceptions?
If a pundit picked John McCain in a landslide back in 2008, or assured investors Bear Stearns is “fine” shortly before its collapse (hello, CNBC’s Jim Cramer), shouldn’t that play some role in whether you’re predisposed to buy the line they’re selling now?
Instead, such pearls of non-wisdom disappear down the memory hole. Indeed, sportstalk shows often encourage co-hosts to disagree about pretty much everything for the sheer theater of it, subsequently ignoring how the guy who picked Detroit before the World Series might have damaged his credibility when the NFL playoffs roll around.
Oddly, we know everything about the combatants, from politicians’ poll numbers to each unguarded moment and garbled sentence — just as we know how pitchers perform against left-handed batters in cold-weather months.
But with the people providing all that information? Not so much.
The future, of course, is inherently unpredictable. Yet if your expertise involves reading the pulse of the country, weaknesses of Alabama’s offense or vitality of the European markets, and you are consistently proven inept in that regard, viewers have a right to know.
So why the free pass for pundits? The reasons are threefold.
First, accuracy doesn’t matter because those in charge are much more concerned about presenting information in an entertaining way than the quality of the material itself.
On ESPN’s college football show, Lou Holtz and Mark May argue courtroom-style each week, and being demonstrably wrong (while occasionally acknowledged) is treated like a big joke. Presidential elections are more significant, but the underlying point-counterpoint shtick remains the same.
Second, once you gain membership in the club, it’s difficult to get ousted, barring an extracurricular scandal or such outlandish poor judgment as to become an embarrassment. It’s why Pat Buchanan endures, like the crazy uncle who’s not so bad as long as he visits infrequently and doesn’t stay long.
Finally, the sheer crush of data ensures nobody will spend too much time sorting through particulars about who said what before moving on to new areas of debate. Indeed, ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd posted a piece handicapping the 2016 race on Saturday, as if there wouldn’t be ample time to begin that process, oh, let’s say after Election Day.
All this brings to mind a personal episode from when “Dexter” premiered. After writing an unfavorable review, I later penned a follow-up admitting the series had more merit than my original assessment.
This modest mea culpa yielded a surprising amount of feedback, based primarily on people finding it refreshing to see one of those know-it-all critics concede they might have gotten something wrong.
There will doubtless be a degree of playful post-election joshing, but people who misread the race with absolute conviction are unlikely to earn black marks on their permanent record, despite striking out in what amounts to their profession’s biggest game.
Besides, there’s always potential redemption in the next vote. Or Super Bowl.