As we have an official Election Day, there ought to be a new national holiday called Eating Crow Day, when we the people who had to watch the nation’s army of pundits, pollsters, anchormen and cable news opinionators get to digest their predictions and analyze where they went wrong.
Not since Literary Digest predicted Alf Landon would beat FDR in 1936–a coup it managed to pull off by polling only people with phones during the Great Depression–has there been the need for such a day of mourning after Hillary Clinton’s surprise victory in New Hampshire.
The punditocracy went out on a limb for five days after Iowa, and the people sawed off the limb. The number of analysts who saw the upset victory coming was so small–zero, as far as I’ve seen—there could be a postelection TV special on the Food Network, featuring recipes from famous chefs on the best way to eat crow.
It doesn’t taste that bad when you add some Tabasco, green chili, smoky chipotle oil, Aleppo pepper, dragon rub, hot red paprika and other industrial-strength seasonings.
I’ve had to eat my words in public from time to time. As recently as last week, I was predicting the Steelers would be in the Super Bowl in February. But not this time. I was the one who marched to a different drummer after Iowa–the one who asked how many people in the caucuses voted for Obama as their second and third choices, which might skew results in a one-vote-per-person state like New Hampshire. None of the analysts had those figures. Better numbers might have given the experts food for thought, if not indigestion.
The largest platter of fricasseed crow should be consumed by Chris Matthews. A whole flock of blackbirds couldn’t make up for his on-air conduct in the five days between Iowa and New Hampshire.
Matthews, who was the talkative one sitting to the left of Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s election night coverage team, read the Iowa vote as the start of a second American revolution. The Pied Piper of Illinois would lead the nation’s young voters to the Promised Land, a place where politics would not be borrrrrrring. Obama, Matthews exulted, was doing what Ali did for boxing. Matthews did everything but whistle the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Bottom of the Ninth for his man Obama the Savior.
The canonization process, as MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan described his colleague’s enthusiasm, continued all week on Hardball. Matthews was taking yet another victory lap as the polls closed Tuesday night.
Now, I like the Matthews-Olbermann team, the yin and yang of cable news anchormen. They combine a dazzling knowledge of politics with sports, literary, history and celebrity TV metaphors, ranging from O. Henry to middleweight championship bouts in the 1950s, from Winston Churchill’s speeches to Lawrence of Arabia’s military strategy defeating the Turks and how it will relate to South Carolina. You never know what Chris and Keith will say.
Matthews was so vociferous in his pro-Obama slant that some Clintonistas on the Internet were blaming him for Obama’s victory in New Hampshire even before the votes were counted. In all modesty, Matthews declined to take all the credit.
Of course, Matthews wasn’t the only one who deserves honors for being the wrongest since the Chicago Tribune printed the headline “Dewey Beats Truman” in 1948. Distinguished universities had been releasing polls confirming Matthews’s predictions. One couldn’t help but wish that Quinnipiac and Marist, among the pollsters from respected academic institutions winding up with egg on their faces, would stick to building up their football programs.
The leader of the national media swoon-in for Obama became strangely subdued as the early results began drifting in. And while others were waiting for the final words of the candidates, in the tsunami that didn’t happen, I was looking forward to Mathews’s concession speech.
Would he play the blame game, blaming the people who misled the pollsters, who misled him? You can’t trust people anymore. They made up their own minds, even though the media tried to do it for them.
Matthews’s analysis of where he went wrong came out slowly, like air escaping from a slow leak in a hot-air balloon. “Yes, a lot of people will have explaining to do,” he said quietly at one point between clenched teeth. And then: “Save the flagellation for later.” He eventually said it out loud: “We were wrong. I will never underestimate Hillary again.”
Chris Matthews covers elections like it’s an Olympic event: jumping to conclusions. Wise old Tom Brokaw, coming in for the night from his home on the range–where the deer and the antelope and his cattle roam in Montana–suggested another game plan for the future: “Why not wait until the voters speak?”
Matthews shook his head. “But what do we do–stay at home?”
Nature abhors a vacuum. But that is nothing compared to cable news’s problem of what can be done to fill the dead air between commercials.
My final words of advice for Chris Matthews. Instead of quoting Winston Churchill, try the words of that other great news commentator, Emily Litella: “Never mind.”