PolitiFact Hits the National Stage; But Emphasis on Polling Remains Media Flaw
It's been great fun to see the hard-working folks from the Times' political fact-checking site, PolitiFact, expand the brand. At a time when presidential candidates are slinging all sorts of charges, CNN, MSNBC, the Dallas Morning News and a wide assortment of bloggers have regularly turned to Politifact to sort truth from fiction.
Wondering what the make of the charges and counter-charges thrown around during last night's GOP debate? Check Politifact's nearly live coverage of the event, featuring several assertions vetted with admirable speed (Times editor in chief Paul Tash even managed a good zinger, asking Giuliani why he spends so much time talking about how immigrants should learn to speak English, and then drafts campaign commercials for Florida in Spanish?)
But you can't have a compliment from a critic without a little qualification. And what's bugging me about recent coverage of Florida is our continued reliance on polling to forecast the results.
Pundits and anchors spent weeks apologizing for the mess that was New Hampshire coverage, admitting that Obama's performance in Iowa's caucus, and polls suggesting he might find similar success in New Hampshire's primary, faked them into believing an Obama surge would overwhelm Hillary Clinton.
Now we have polling suggesting that Giuliani is about to lose big in Florida, dooming his campaign amid a risky strategy to focus on this state as his first real proving ground. Our own poll, conducted with the Miami Herald and Bay News 9, was widely quoted Thursday as proof, with folks saying he's fallen "faster than the Dow Jones average."
Giuliani, asked about the poll results Thursday, neatly compared himself to the New York Giants rather than use the most recent political example of resurrection and poll defying success which comes to mind -- namely, his nemesis Hillary Clinton.
I think the Huffington Post may have the best idea here, vowing to treat polling results with the same amusing superstition we reserve for astrology columns and fortune cookie predictions (I'm not, however, down with their advice that readers should hang up on pollsters and refuse to participate).
How many times do journalists need to get bitten by this issue before we put polls and horse race predictions in the proper perspective?