Nate Silver: Politico Co-Founders Lack ‘Curiosity For The World Outside Of The Bubble’

Nate Silver has some thoughts about Politico. Plenty of them.

In an email sent Tuesday to TPM (posted below), Silver — who nailed the 2012 presidential election by correctly forecasting the outcome in all 50 states — elaborated on some of his criticisms of Politico, a publication specializing in Washington’s insider culture that has frequently drawn his ire. 

Silver was responding to an interview with Politico co-founders John Harris and Jim VandeHei in The New Republic. Both offered some praise of Silver’s work, but Harris said the New York Times’ resident polling guru “gets up on his high horse quite a lot on different topics.” VandeHei said that some of Silver’s “stuff goes on and on” and argued that he uses “numbers to prove stuff that I don’t think can be proved by numbers alone.”

Silver said he thought “it was a good interview” but that Harris and VandeHei often mischaracterize his central criticism of Politico.

It’s striking how preoccupied Harris and VandeHei are with the perception that Politico is too ‘insidery,'” Silver wrote. “My personal critique of their work cuts a little deeper than that, however. It’s not that they are too ‘insidery’ per se, but that the perceptions of Beltway insiders, which Politico echoes and embraces, are not always very insightful or accurate. In other words, the conventional wisdom is often wrong, especially in Washington.”

He added later in the email: “Furthermore, Harris and VandeHei seem to lack very much curiosity for the world outside of the bubble.”

Silver also took issue with VandeHei’s assertion that he’s using numbers to “prove stuff,” contending that he is instead “providing a critical perspective, and scrutinizing claims on the basis of evidence (statistical or otherwise).” That only works, he said, if you believe “that there is some sort of truth outside the bubble — what would be called the “objective” world in a scientific or philosophical context.”

“Politico, by contrast, sometimes seems to operate within a ‘post-truth’ worldview,” Silver wrote. “Some people think that is the very essence of savvy, modern journalism, but my bet is that journalism is headed in another direction – toward being more critical and empirical.”

Hi Tom,

I thought it was a good interview. It’s striking how preoccupied Harris and VandeHei are with the perception that Politico is too “insidery”. My personal critique of their work cuts a little deeper than that, however. It’s not that they are too “insidery” per se, but that the perceptions of Beltway insiders, which Politico echoes and embraces, are not always very insightful or accurate. In other words, the conventional wisdom is often wrong, especially in Washington.

Now, it would be one thing if Politico were to describe the conventional wisdom and then hold it up to a critical examination. That would be extremely useful and interesting. I thought Ben Smith, back when he wrote for them, had a real knack for that. And they have a few other journalists who I really enjoy reading. But in most of the “Behind the Curtain” pieces, by contrast, there’s a lack of perspective — in particular, a lack of perspective about the role that Politico plays in formulating the conventional wisdom which they then “report” upon.

Furthermore, Harris and VandeHei seem to lack very much curiosity for the world outside of the bubble. Harris claims it’s not worth his time to read 538, and VandeHei characterizes my work as “trying to use numbers to prove stuff”. Instead, what 538 is really about is providing a critical perspective, and scrutinizing claims on the basis of evidence (statistical or otherwise). In order to do that, you have to believe that there is some sort of truth outside the bubble — what would be called the “objective” world in a scientific or philosophical context. Politico, by contrast, sometimes seems to operate within a “post-truth” worldview. Some people think that is the very essence of savvy, modern journalism, but my bet is that journalism is headed in another direction – toward being more critical and empirical.

thanks,

Nate

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Kludt is a reporter for Talking Points Memo based in New York City, covering media and national affairs. Originally from South Dakota, Tom joined TPM as an intern in late-2011 and became a staff member during the 2012 election. He can be reached at tom@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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