Monday, October 12, 2009

Can't Help It, The Gray Lady Can't Help It

Let's say that you know that off-year elections, such as the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, are not important indications of how well the president is doing, how well the president's party will do in the midterm elections, or the president's chances of reelection. Do you:

A. Run no story at all about the Meaning of the upcoming off-year elections.

B. Run a story about the overblown hype that surrounds such elections, making it clear that it is, in fact, hype.

C. Run a story about the Meaning of the upcoming off-year elections, but sprinkle occasional disclaimers throughout the piece, attributing most of them to the White House (i.e., off-year elections are full of portents, although the White House says that Obama might not be driven from office immediately if the Democrats lose in Virginia). And perhaps conclude:
For all that, Virginia, a laboratory for many of the ways Mr. Obama tried to change the ideological appeal and tactics of his party, is looming as an early if imprecise test of this president and his policies.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Those of you who guessed C, please enjoy this Adam Nagourney conventional-wisdom distillation in today's Times. Oh, and extra credit to the Times for the headline they slapped on it: "2 State Races May Put Lens on Obama." Or, they may not! Who's to say?

Actually, one might find actual news in these sorts of stories, but the Times does it's best to avoid that. For example, it would be interesting to know whether local pols in various parts of the nation consider the president an asset or a liability. That's not really an indication of future election results, but it would be interesting, I'd say. Yet, in this story, there's nothing at all about whether Corzine considers Obama an asset. And, in Virginia, we get full-on confusion. First, "Mr. Obama’s policies have become a flash point for Mr. Deeds’s Republican opponent." Next, "Mr. Deeds’s aides have pleaded with the White House to send Mr. Obama into the state." Then, "Mr. Deeds has made efforts to put some distance between himself and Mr. Obama, including saying he was not an Obama Democrat." And finally, "Mr. Deeds seems ambivalent about the president, inviting him to campaign here even as he places at least some of the blame for his troubles on what Democrats are doing in Washington." Got that? No, I don't, either. Oh, and the story avoids any other evidence (such as, perhaps, polls comparing Obama's approval ratings with the current Democratic governors within those states) -- indeed, there's no sense at all from this story that Corzine stands a better chance of winning right now than does Deeds.

Nice work, NYT!


  1. Thank you. I can't stand stories like this and they are depressingly common in the Times.

    In general, I find nearly everyone's attempt to draw some meaning from Virginia where the party in the WH has lost every single Governor's race since the Bicentennial to be totally ridiculous. I am now judging the quality of news articles on this topic but what paragraph they choose to bury that little nugget in.

  2. Stuff like this kills me. I've been using the New Jersey and Virginia polling numbers as a means of testing some changes to my electoral college forecasting ahead of 2012, and have posted on each race (probably too much). I've yet to see any connection between either of these contests and what's happening at the national level. New Jersey is about Corzine (and to a lesser/greater extent now, Chris Daggett) and Virginia is about two flawed candidates, one of which (McDonnell) is taking advantage of a much more energized base. That latter point may say something about the national climate, but the race certainly hinges more on local issues such as taxes and transportation.

    ...oh, and theses.

  3. CTH -- good point on the business of the president's party always losing in VA.

    Josh -- well, actually, this isn't to Josh, but to everyone who wants to obsessively follow the NJ and VA elections: the place to go is


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