Time horizons

Sure, the nature of the blogosphere privileges quick takes, instant analysis, and opinions that are subject to revision, but watching the health care process from start to finish, and the way it’s been covered in the political blogosphere, I am struck by the short time horizon of so many posts — some of the most plugged in politicos kept reporting on the horse race at a given moment, and extrapolating with great confidence that the bill is definitely not going to pass, or that some parliamentary procedure definitely is going to be used… and then a few days pass, and the prospects for the bill’s passage is completely changed, the expected procedures are completely different, the particular talking points are somewhat tweaked. If the political blogosphere covered basketball games, we’d not only be told about shots, makes, and misses, but every rotation of the ball on the way to the hoop. “He shoots, the ball appears to be on course, it’s getting closer and still seems like it’ll make it, I give it a 90 percent chance of going in, IT HITS THE BACK RIM, it didn’t make it, it definitely appears as though it may bounce out, it’s going to bounce on the rim a second time, now it’s perched on the lip and may go in or out — an instant poll of the crowd confirms that 75 percent of people think it’ll wind up a miss — my God it’s actually falling into the basket, this moment it is falling through the net, it’s a basket!”

One objection to excessive horse race coverage is that it crowds out stories on the substance of a bill. My understanding of how this legislation passed is more sophisticated than my understanding of how its provisions are going to unfold. But I am objecting now for another reason — I’ve just been inundated ever since Barack Obama won the presidency with all kinds of health care reform details that neither I nor anyone else needed to know. Especially the analysis that turned out to be completely wrong, because everyone was trying to be first to say that the legislation was definitely dead, or else still alive. There is zero accountability when folks are wrong about these predictions — why would there be? It’s not as though wrong guesses betray a lack of knowledge — but the fact that no one knows the future doesn’t stop everyone from cluttering up my Google Reader with posts that could as easily be unwritten. Just wait a day and see if the prediction actually plays out, then report it!

I am all for health care legislation predictions like the ones Megan McArdle just offered, because it’s useful to go on record about what one expects a bill to do, and to lay out weaknesses that maybe could be addressed, but when it comes to all the posts everyone wrote about whether the bill is dead or not, whether an amendment is going to pass, etc., why not just report that it exists and leave its passage or defeat as something to report after the fact? Sure, if you knew the future, it might be useful to know everything a bit early, but these predictions and pronouncements are so often wrong that being misled is a more frequent outcome than getting a jump on the news.

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4 Responses to “Time horizons”

  1. Richard Monahan Says:

    Connor come on. Everyone needs to fill space and feed the beast. They also need to drive traffic in a hyper competetive marketplace. You know better thn anyone else how difficult it is to be fresh, new, relevant on a daily basis. Sorry can’t agree with you on this. In all honesty this post today looks to me as if you were trying to figure out a new angle on what to write today.

  2. citifieddoug Says:

    Excellent satire. What’s been driving me crazy in the coverage has been posts about the prospects from the bill blooming like algae in a stagnant pond and I never could find anyone to talk about the, presumably, 2000+ pages of the bill that weren’t general mandates on insurers or consumers or basic tax provisions. I’m sure 30,000 pages of polls were analyzed and described in 1,000,000 paragraphs but I can’t recall a sentence about a page of the actual bill.

  3. Critique of Blogs from a Blog « media and conflict Says:

    […] critique of the “horse race” reporting that happens on political […]

  4. If political blogs covered sports « Oregon Expat Says:

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