Elections The Media

Revenge of the Nerd


In a very amusing public editorial, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reveals that Nate Silver didn’t fit in at the Times because the pundits didn’t like him.

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

He disrupted the insufferable horse race.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

At the height of the 2012 election, Nate Silver’s 538 accounted for as much as 70 percent of the Times’ web traffic. Naturally, resident pundits did not take kindly to this distraction from their regularly scheduled bloviating. Because somebody has to explain why Barack Obama would be out of place at the Applebee’s salad bar and what that means for his chances in the next election.

Silver has never been as combative as Krugman is while producing similar analysis that relies more on fundamentals than intuition. However, he regularly captured far more traffic and attention while disrupting the traditional model of campaign coverage which is comparable to a farmer’s almanac that predicts the outcome of the election by measuring the hair on a sheep’s scrotum.

This news should be especially pleasing to the geniuses at Politico who, as you might recall, pleaded with readers to discount Silver’s analysis during the waning days of the election because he is not a “wizard.”

Even if your analysis proves to be 99 percent accurate while drawing huge amounts of traffic, the Beltway Country Club will band together and run you out of Bushwood.

  • trgahan

    Silver did it wrong. He tackled a question with facts and found answers which he then shared with the rest of us.

    Pundits are not supposed to find answers; they are there only to keep the argument going and/or muddy the issues until everyone can project their own bias into what is “really going on!” Resolution doesn’t get you that upper Manhattan brownstone and think tank cocktail party invites.

  • drspittle

    Yikes. Sorry. That was Disqus Challenged me below.Nate must be “doing something right”.

  • muselet

    A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work.

    Translated, this means they were wrong and Nate Silver was right.

    Congratulations, traditional and well-respected Times journalists! It took a Fred Hiatt to turn the Washington Post into a birdcage liner, and it took a Rupert Murdoch to finish off the reputation and journalistic integrity of the Wall Street Journal. You bozos, though, are killing the New York Times all by yourselves, because you’re too lazy to write anything but the most conventional of wisdom and you’re quick to play power games.

    In a sane universe, those traditional and well-respected Times journalists would be unemployable. Since we do not live in a sane universe, we can expect to see them continue to thrive at the expense of actual journalism.


    • Kerry Reid

      Maybe they can coax back Judith Miller.

      • muselet

        I’m surprised they haven’t.


    • cleos_mom

      Who the he ll were they “well-respected” by?

      The comments to Sullivan’s post are already closed, but the ones that made it in certainly didn’t reflect anything resembling respect for the Times’ establishment.

  • drspittle


  • Vic78

    If your intuition told you that Romney was going to win, you have shitty political instincts and may need to find something else to write about. All Silver did was look at state polls because it’s the states that vote for the president. I wouldn’t call it wizardry, I call it being smart about statistics.

    Who cares what Times writers think? Salad bar at Applebee’s? I guess the people that run the Times have money to burn. There’s no way those quacks would be working for me.

    • blackdaug

      You know Brooks had to be the loudest complainer…but its hard to picture Krugman bitching about him?

  • missliberties

    Those beltway elite get their noses bent out of shape if you step out of order. Everyone’s ass must be properly kissed, and name dropping is a must to stay in with the in crowd. Yeah it is just like high school.

    If you want a good laugh, read “This Town”. It’s hysterical.

    • drspittle

      I do want to read that book. Thanks for the recommend.

      • missliberties

        I love the writing, sarcastically witty and devasting, much like Bob Cesca’s! :) It’s entertaining and unnerving at the same time, to see the mess that is Washington. The stuff on Harry Reid is priceless. He really is a lot tougher than people think.

    • Kerry Reid

      I especially love pronouncements on how one should behave in DC as issued by Sally Quinn — whose major achievement in life has been sleeping with Ben Bradlee and then complaining about how Clinton’s sexual indiscretions “fouled the nest.”