NBC News chairman Andy Lack admitted on Wednesday that the press “screwed up” on polling and that “Democracy is messy.” That’s a small encouragement from an entrenched media that seems to become more dug in every day. But the media’s problem is bigger than just polls–it’s their stunning lack of intellectual and social diversity.
POLITICO quoted Lack’s comments made in an interview at IESE Business School in New York.
We didn’t get this election right, news organizations, we didn’t know that night how wrong or how close it was. I don’t know anyone who thought at 6 o’clock in the evening it was going to go down that way.
Democracy is messy, our relationship to the free and independent press that we cherish is messy, and we forget about that too often. It is not clean, it is not perfect, we make mistakes, we screw up, but we fix that and are open about that. Embarrassed, humbled, yes, but not shy about saying we didn’t get that right.
In an age when the Washington Post and the New York Times have retreated behind smug slogans (“Democracy dies in darkness”) and narrow self-righteousness, Lack is beginning to understand how wrong the press–and the polls–have been.
The telling words were “I don’t know anyone who thought…” This is because the media, as a group, has not even tried for many years to incorporate people who think differently than they do at Columbia School of Journalism, NYU and other liberal enclaves that churn our reporters. They are smug, lazy, and insular about their worldview and unwilling to entertain any voice that challenges it.
We all know that the polls missed. It wasn’t the polling itself, but it was the presuppositions related to the polling that skewed the data. Instead of putting boots on the ground, they sat in cubicles in New York and Washington, looking at numbers.
The same flaws that haunted the media also fatally infected the Clinton campaign. When Clinton supporters in Michigan furiously and desperately called out for help, her campaign sat in Brooklyn looking at numbers, just like the press.
They both got lazy, and they both were wrong. FiveThirtyEight, which tempered its polling and recognized that error trends are a thread running through and linking multiple states, tried to unravel the mess on November 9.
Pollsters, and the media companies whose dwindling budgets have left them commissioning fewer polls, have to decide where to go from here. “Traditional methods are not in crisis, just expensive,” said Barbara Carvalho of Marist College, whose final poll of the race showed Clinton leading by 1 point, in line with her current lead. “Few want to pay for scientific polling.”
Other polling problems include technology, bias, and statistical skewing. How our culture communicates, and who we trust had been changing behind the pollsters’ backs. So when a black swan like Trump came around, people didn’t know what to say or to whom they were saying it. Many simply punted or said what they thought the pollster wanted to hear.
On Nov. 9, The Atlantic boiled it down to caveat emptor.
It seems that NBC’s lack agrees.
“We have to make some big changes in that area [polling]. I think we have to get out in the county more, and live in these states more, and that will take a bigger commitment from us going in,” Lack said. “I think we relied too much on polls, and not enough on our own good reporting inside Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
Where reporters got out into the communities, they saw the mood and the move toward Trump. But editors and pundits didn’t want to use anecdotal and observational stories. They wanted to follow the polls.
I know because I fell victim to this. Back in February, 2016, I saw a huge groundswell for Trump in New Hampshire. I chose to ignore reports I didn’t like and hoped for a Cruz or Rubio surge (not Christie or Kasich) against the observational and anecdotal data. I stood at the polling place in Seabrook, NH on primary day and talked to voter after voter who were enamored with Trump.
Some who were registered Democrats were angry they couldn’t switch parties–in order to vote for Trump–at the polling place and didn’t vote at all in protest. It wasn’t until the exit poll results were published showing Trump’s momentum that I began to understand his attraction. But I still hoped against the data, preferring to collect polling data that turned out to be flawed and incorrect.
We were all wrong about the value of polling data.
Three days before the inauguration, Erick Erickson declared that Trump’s approval rating polls are irrelevant.
It does no good to say Trump is losing the popular vote nationwide in a poll, or that most voters view him negatively. They did before the election too. They did on Election Day too. He still won. Shaping news coverage based on these polls now seems outmoded.
Polling is outmoded, for a host of reasons the press is still trying to figure out, but at least they’re beginning to understand its value is limited.
The media’s intractable problem is they don’t want to listen to people in Podunk. Lack wasn’t willing to admit that NBC and the other main stream media have an enormous bias problem. When they venture out into Pennsylvania and Michigan, they might hear and record what Americans are telling them, but when it’s time to write it up, it’s clear they don’t agree or believe it.
Lack said “We are not the opposition party,” but he’s wrong. NBC and the main stream media are the opposition party–not to Republicans or conservatives, but to all Americans outside of their social and educational bubble–because if they had their druthers, these reporters would try to convince the people they’re reporting on to change their minds, instead of trying to understand them.
The answer is more than just not being lazy and relying on national polls. The answer is a dirty word in media circles: intellectual diversity. They need to reach down into society and change their own demographics to reflect the country’s. We can’t have a fair and impartial press when 90-plus percent of the press represents the views of 50 percent of the country, and not at all the other 50 percent.
Until the media can solve its own intellectual diversity issue, they need to understand the same problem that they accuse police across the nation of having. If a supermajority white police department can’t impartially serve a black community because of racial demographics, then a supermajority liberal media can’t impartially serve a God-fearing, family-loving, hunting, fishing, pickup-driving American community.
Actually, racial diversity matters less than intellectual and worldview diversity. Try telling liberals that you don’t believe that race matters, and you’ll be called a bigot. But they’re perfectly willing to hear from racists of all stripes.
The main stream media fall all over themselves to ensure that all skin colors, religions (except born-again Christianity) and creeds are represented proportionally in their ranks. They need to make the same commitment to social, intellectual, and worldview diversity. Only then will the polling and bias problems begin to go away.