Monthly Archives: November 2012

Math for journalists (and everyone else too)

By Christopher B. Daly 

In the wake of last week’s election, many Republicans seems to be facing not only a political problem but also an epistemological one. Epistemology is the term philosophers use for the study of knowledge itself. It is an inquiry that asks: How do we know what we know? (or, How do we know what we think we know?)

Two recent pieces raise the issue.

David Carr,in his column in the New York Times, emphasizes the crisis that overtook Fox News on election night, when some professionals at the conservative news network were forced to choose — live, on television — between Republican orthodoxy and journalistic empiricism. Carr rightly applauds Megyn Kelly for insisting on a fact-based approach while she was on-air with Republican Party strategist, fund-raiser, consultant (have I left any roles out?) Karl Rove, who doubles as a paid news “analyst” for Fox. As the Ohio vote was being counted last Tuesday night, it was becoming clear that Obama would win the state and, thus, the country. Rove insisted that Fox set aside the facts and hold off on placing Ohio in the president’s camp.

Inexplicably, though, Carr did not cite the definitive quote in the exchange. Kelly turned to Rove and asked:

“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”

(Jon Stewart rightly pounced on it as a moment of political/journalistic/epistemological crisis, and you can see the video.)


How about math we do as Americans to determine reality?


Many of the same issues are raised in a searching piece in Politico today about the “cocooning” of many Republicans. On election night, some Republicans found it difficult to believe that Obama was actually winning, largely because they only watch Fox News and only hear the views of analysts like Karl Rove. The piece, by Jonathan Martin, points in the direction of the book I am working on about the rise of conservative media after WWII, with the working title: Inside the Meme Factory: The Rise of Conservative Media and Think Tanks. Stay tuned for that. (If you think that an idea/slogan like “the rich are job-creators” arises spontaneously, you got another think coming!)








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Democracy for sale? (cont.)

In a follow-up piece, the Times continues to follow the money in politics. Turns out, business interests were not able to buy the presidential election — this time.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, for example, spent millions in this campaign, backing eight conservative candidates. His record:  0-for-8.

Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.     Photo: Patrick Fallon / NYTimes

Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Photo: Patrick Fallon / NYTimes

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Politics: Bad for business?

By Christopher B. Daly 

If business executives and the titans of finance are so good at investing, why do they do so poorly in investing in politicians? Clearly, big business and Wall Street went all-in this time on Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Through direct donations and superPACs, they sank enormous amounts of money (which, by rights, should go to the stockholders) into the Romney campaign and now have nothing to show for it.

Actually, they may have less than nothing to show for it. Because in the process of investing in Romney, they also managed to antagonize the majority of Americans who prefer the other guy.

These thoughts were prompted by a timely piece in today’s Times Business Day section by columnist Eduardo Porter, who tries to follow the money in corporate political donations. Porter estimates that business interests spent about $2 billion and got nothing but ill will.

All of which reminds me of a remark attributed to former hoops wizard Michael Jordan. He became a wealthy businessman by getting into the sneaker business. Later, he was asked why he didn’t endorse Barack Obama. His answer: “Republicans buy shoes too.” (Just recently, Jordan had an apparent change of heart and endorsed Obama.)

For you activists: Some of the biggest donors to conservative candidates and causes are the Koch brothers. Here are some of the companies they own or products those companies make:


Brawny paper towels

Angel Soft toilet paper

Mardi Gras paper napkins

Vanity Fair paper products

Stainmaster carpets

Lycra fabric products.

And before you buy any oil pipelines, be sure to check the label.

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Dick Morris: wrong or stupid?

By Christopher B. Daly

Among the many satisfactions on election night 2012 was seeing Dick Morris, the smarmy former Clinton political adviser, get slapped around the head by the facts. Just a few days ago, Morris — who has been reborn as a mean conservative — was predicting not only that Romney would win but that the Republican would win in a landslide. You can read the interview he did with his enabler, Bill O’Reilly.

Morris debases the public sphere every time he speaks or writes.

And shame on Fox News for giving this guy airtime. 


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Is democracy for sale?

By Christopher B. Daly

A hat-tip to NPR. As a public service, NPR has compiled a list of the individuals and corporations who have donated $1 million or more to political campaigns or SuperPACs during this presidential election cycle.

Except for a handful of creative people and liberals, it is a conservative landslide. No surprise there. Wealthy people believe that they don’t need government and don’t deserve to be taxed. So, they tend to support the political party that supports their wishes.

I have not added up all the subtotals, but at a glance, here is a candidate for the biggest donor of them all: Sheldon Adelson. Here’s a guy who made a fortune off casino gambling — literally taking money from people who can almost never afford to lose it.

IN what way does all this spending help to strengthen our democracy or improve our society? What on earth gave the Supreme Court the idea that this kind of spending was protected by the Constitution? Do the individuals on the super-donor list love their country more than the rest of us? Do they have better ideas? Do they deserve the kind of giant megaphone that $30 million can buy?


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Times falls short

By Christopher B. Daly 

The normally reliable Brian Stelter let readers down today. He wrote a piece for the Monday New York Times about television networks and their plans for Election Night coverage on Tuesday. The piece was fine as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. Why was there no mention of the coverage plans of Black Entertainment Television (which does have a news operation)?


Why no mention of Univision or Telemundo?

Come on.

(I would have made this same point in the Times’s own “comments” section, but this article had no comments enabled.)

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Math for journalists (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Last-minute pre-election edition. Here’s a tip for filling the long hours on Election Day when not much is happening. Read this article from the Nieman Journalism Lab about the use of statistics in politics by the New York Times’s Nate Silver. Then, read Nate Silver’s blog, whose name is actually a number, 538 — so named for the number of votes in the Electoral College. 

That should keep you busy until some actual results start coming in after 7 p.m. (eastern time).



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Who are Mitt Romney’s people?

by Christopher B. Daly 

Readers of this blog are obviously an intelligent, discerning, and deeply informed group of people, curious about many things and knowledgable about many others. So, here goes:

How many presidential candidates in U.S. history have ever gotten elected without carrying their home states?

A bonus question: who were they?

Turns out, of the 44 men who have won the office, only three failed to carry their home state (that is, the one they were living in when they ran for president). They were James K. Polk of Tennessee, Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, and Richard Nixon of New York.

Now, consider Mitt Romney.

–He was born in Michigan.

–He spent the bulk of his adult life in Massachusetts — racking up two degrees from Harvard (when’s the last time he mentioned either of those? Don’t forget: he has a law degree.), then working at Bain in Boston and later becoming governor. This is the state where he votes.

–He also has a vacation home in New Hampshire.

–And he is building some kind of pleasure dome in La Jolla, Calif.

So, that makes four states where he has roots or homes, and according to the polls, he is going to lose all four of those states on Tuesday. What does that say about him? He could lose Massachusetts, the state where he has lived the longest, by 20 points. How is that not a story? Just imagine if Obama were poised to lose Illinois by 20 points. . . (or Hawaii!)

[the Romney mansion in Belmont, Mass. It’s an affluent place, but still, no one lives like this.]

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