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Straight-Line Projections

Many years ago, I remember that the Washingtonian magazine commissioned the writer who goes by the name of "Joe Bob Briggs", and who had made his name in a Texas paper with his reviews of drive-in and B-movies, to review all the Sunday morning political talk shows. It was a hilarious piece of writing, which unfortunately I cannot find online, but I vividly remember, first, his observation that David Gergen bore an uncanny resemblance to The Cat in The Hat, and second, that everything that purported to be a "prediction" on McLaughlin or Meet the Press or Sam and Cokie was nothing more than "a straight-line projection from the present." Not necessarily a humorous observation, but accurate, and not always obvious.

Reading Elizabeth Bumiller’s cold assessment this morning of Bush’s futile effort to justify the Iraq war reminded me of Joe Bob’s second observation. It’s tempting to play the game of "the press is cowed by the right," or "the press is all a bunch of liberals." The fact is that the main bias of the press is toward the assumption that, however things look now, that’s how they will remain. For my money, over the last few years, no reporter has been more "in the tank," more slavishly devoted to the conventional wisdom on Bush’s genius and Bush’s overwhelming political strength than Bumiller. Part of that was the isolation of the bubble, but more important was that straight-line projection: Bush is politically strong, therefore he will remain politically strong.

Now of course, Bush looks ridiculously weak, so the straight-line projection has him going down the tubes. Bumiller’s video presentation on Bush is an even more potent example of her shift over to the alternative projection. As a friend in Iraq reminded me a few weeks ago, things are never either as bad as they look when they’re bad nor as good as they look when they’re good. Under Bush’s apparent strength in 2002-4, there were some incipient weaknesses just as his apparent weakness now disguises some political strengths. The press isn’t biased toward the right or the left (generally speaking, with some exceptions), but it is biased toward inertia. That’s a factor that’s worked hugely to the advantage of Bush and the right, and now it will kill them.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 22, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

The press ... is biased toward inertia. That’s a factor that’s worked hugely to the advantage of Bush and the right, and now it will kill them.

Assuming nothing else about the situation changes...

Posted by: Kieran | Mar 22, 2006 9:32:51 PM

Mark, do you read Krugman's Money Talks column? He goes further into globalization. I wish Dems would use him as a role model in how to fight the press's attacks. Or listen to Steve Jarding, who was on Wisconsin Public Radio yesterday. He was excellent.

Feingold is enjoying high support in rural counties!

Posted by: Anne | Mar 23, 2006 10:43:58 AM

Wow. Totally astute.

Posted by: Rob W | Mar 24, 2006 4:08:25 PM

"As a friend in Iraq reminded me a few weeks ago, things are never either as bad as they look when they’re bad nor as good as they look when they’re good."

That's similar to a maxim by La Rochefoucauld:

"On n'est jamais si heureux ni si malheureux qu'on s'imagine."

("We are never as happy nor as unhappy as we imagine.")

Posted by: leo | Mar 25, 2006 12:29:12 AM

Mark: A serious blogger such as yourself might perform a great service by inviting people who pronounce on politics to submit a Predicted State of the Nation (or World) for a year or two from the date of the contest. They might be asked, for example, to predict for January 1, 2007, the number of American troops in Iraq, the composition of the new Congress, the President's favorability rating, the composition of the Cabinet, the two leading contenders for their party's presidential nomination, the number of anti-Walmart health policy laws adopted by states, etc.
Such a contest would pit the "straight-liners" against the rest of us who believe that politics follows a straight line, until it doesn't.
On the business page one often sees predictions of the behavior of the stock market in the year ahead. Why not put bloviating analysts to a comparable test?

Posted by: MLinVA | Mar 25, 2006 12:15:51 PM

Mark: A serious blogger such as yourself might perform a great service by inviting people who pronounce on politics to submit a Predicted State of the Nation (or World) for a year or two from the date of the contest. They might be asked, for example, to predict for January 1, 2007, the number of American troops in Iraq, the composition of the new Congress, the President's favorability rating, the composition of the Cabinet, the two leading contenders for their party's presidential nomination, the number of anti-Walmart health policy laws adopted by states, etc.
Such a contest would pit the "straight-liners" against the rest of us who believe that politics follows a straight line, until it doesn't.
On the business page one often sees predictions of the behavior of the stock market in the year ahead. Why not put bloviating analysts to a comparable test?

Posted by: MLinVA | Mar 25, 2006 12:16:21 PM

Job Bob Briggs is one of those Texas originals like Molly Ivins (in real life John Bloom http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0089185/) who is a favorite of mine back from the days when he was writing drive-in movie reviews for the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Without him I never would have known about breast counts or rip-away bras.

Posted by: thebears | Mar 27, 2006 12:10:28 AM

it isn't just the press that's biased toward initeria -- everybody is, or at least hopes so.

i remember conservatives in the 1980s who said the soviet union would be around for the foreseeable future, or that the berlin wall wouldn't come down. well, those things didn't turn out as predicted.

i remember the same thing about the bull markets during the 1980s and 1990s.

and it's nice to see a viewpoint about the press that doesn't demonize them from either left or right.

Posted by: harry near indy | Apr 7, 2006 2:35:55 PM