January 6, 2012

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Möbius Strip Journalism

I do my share of complaining about horse race reporting in politics. Well, more than my share. (Quick definition: horse race journalism is news about politics in which the only question that counts is: who’s gonna win?) But there’s a reason I complain about it. Sometimes the crazy passes by so quickly we don’t notice how fantastic it is that people get paid to pull this stuff off. Unless someone complains. Which someone is me.

Last night on MSNBC one of the horsiest race journalists around, Roger Simon of The Politico, offered an observation so exquisitely circular, meaningless and empty that I had to coin a new name for it: möbius strip journalism.

"The Möbius strip, also called the twisted cylinder, is a one-sided nonorientable surface obtained by cutting a closed band into a single strip, giving one of the two ends thus produced a half twist, and then reattaching the two ends."  Link.

That’s what Simon does in this clip. He’s trying to speculate on the chances that Rick Santorum will come out a winner in New Hampshire. So this is what he says:

The problem for Santorum here is not getting in double digits, he will. The problem is how we in the media define Romney’s success or failure here. If Santorum can keep Romney’s margin of victory below ten percent; that is, if he can keep Romney to a single digit victory, Santorum will claim that he had a very good night and I think the media will agree with him. However, this is a tough state to do that in. Romney lives here. Neighboring governor. The polls show him 27 points up….

Now that’s some twisted cylinder reporting! One media person (Ed Schultz of MSNBC) asks another media person (Roger Simon of Politico) about Santorum’s chances of coming out with some kind of win (who’s gonna win? being the  ”one-sided nonorientable surface” I just told you about) and the media person’s answer is: Depends on what we media people say about it, but I can predict what we media people will say. There: I just did!

Now that’s “cutting a closed band into a single strip, giving one of the two ends thus produced a half twist, and then reattaching the two ends…” Isn’t it?

Watch the clip and see if you agree. UPDATE: A similar observation from Brendan Nyhan in Columbia Journalism Review.

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    sometimes wonder if...make American primary votes worthless. Part
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    Stuff like this is why I freaking love the Boston Review. *fist bump*
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