Draining Barrels of Ink for Empty Scoops

beat1In the summer of 2004 as the presidential race between party nominees George W. Bush and John Kerry was moving into higher gear, attention of the die-hard political whores turned toward the question of whom Kerry might choose as his running mate. Kerry’s camp had informed the press that the decision would be announced on July 6. And on that morning the New York Post ran a banner headline proclaiming, “Dem Picks Gephardt as VP Candidate.” Later that afternoon, Kerry picked John Edwards – perhaps further dooming his chances but also making the Post’s editors look like a bunch of clowns.

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I never could figure out what the Post was trying to accomplish by running a speculative story just a few hours before the actual story was set to be revealed. The news didn’t really qualify as a scoop because within hours everyone was going to know the result anyway – with or without the Post’s advanced premonition capabilities. To my knowledge, no desperate soul was trembling on a ledge threatening to jump off lest he be given the name of Kerry’s running-mate right . . . this . . . instant.

The Post simply wanted to flaunt their investigative prowess, insider mastery and superiority over the timid competition – and it blew up in their faces. Not as bad as “Dewey Defeats Truman,” but plenty embarrassing nonetheless.

Reading newspapers over the past couple of weeks, I’m feeling the same vibe: publishers and editors devoting tremendous time and copious ink on election speculation, when the actual, 100 percent correct outcomes will be available to all on November 5. The New York Times has for the past three months produced near-daily polling analysis and Bayesian logic on the likelihood that Democrats will lose (or retain) the Senate after the 2014 mid-term elections. Ever since the Times employed statistician Nate Silver (of the blog The FiveThirtyEight ), and followed his departure with a new column called “The Upshot,” the paper has engaged in all variety of statistics-based analysis along the lines of Freakonomics.

As Upshot contributor Damon Darlin aptly wrote the other day, “Here at The Upshot, we’ve been cranking out articles and interactive graphics on the midterm elections all week and show no sign of letting up.” Now that’s an understatement.

Again on Sunday, the Times offered an article titled, “Both Parties See Campaign Tilting to Republicans” in which they analyze the outcomes of several election scenarios with probabilities running from 0.8 percent to 5.6 percent – as though the vagaries of politics could be ground down to such precision.

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A suggestion to the Upshotters: Take your eight or nine hotly contested states and do an honest side-by-side of each opposing candidate’s views on a dozen significant issues (clue: flag-burning and prayer in school are not significant). Analyze what might happen to the direction – good, bad, indifferent – of the country should either candidate prevail. Leave the horse-race calling to the pro’s at Saratoga and Belmont. Dispense with the patter on what a win or loss by Candidate X might mean to the fundraising ability of some unknown, Orwellian-named 501(c)(4) cabal. Occasionally refer to the dictionary for the definition of “news-worthy.”

I suppose in a country where one can bet on which Super Bowl team will be the first to use a coach’s challenge, or where a horse named “American Pharaoh” has already been named the front runner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby next May, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a full-fledged political speculation industry would come to flourish.

Which begs the question: what’s the over-under on how many hours into the first session of Congress before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriates the Democrats for shamelessly launching a partisan filibuster against repealing Obamacare?

New Independence

A new TV ad for Chevrolet dubbed “A New Journey” by the car company’s agency depicts 30 seconds of split screen comparisons of real life and its equivalents in the virtual world before stating rather sanctimoniously that “Chevrolet is merging the physical freedom of the car with the virtual freedom of wi-fi.” Chevy passengers are shown messing around on tablets. The spot ends with a voice-over of the tag line, “It’s the new independence.”

But wait. Just before the concluding voice-over, the ad shows a teenage boy sitting on a log in a pastoral setting, sun just about to dip below the distant mountains, massive Chevy truck parked nearby – and the kid is Skyping with . . . his mother! “Hi Mom,” he says eagerly, even waving like a geek to her image on the laptop.

Now, when I was a teenager out cruising into the woods – case of malt liquor in the trunk, Pink Floyd on the 8-track, the pungency of Patchouli redolent, with the sultry night poised to pounce upon the languid summer heat – the last thing I needed was a fast, reliable, high-speed tether to my mother. (And as I write this, I suspect the feeling was mutual.)

In fact, outfitting a vehicle with 4G LTE wi-fi as Chevy has done with its newest line-up of cars, trucks and cross-overs will certainly serve to accelerate the downward spiral away from freedom toward an abyss of “always-on-connectivity” that has come to engulf our homes, workspaces and idylls of recreation.

A teenage boy on the cusp of manhood Skyping with Mommy? The anti-thesis of “new independence.” Yeesh.

$55 Million Impression of a Chalkboard

I’m not a big Cy Twombly fan, but someone out there is. On November 12, Christie’s will be auctioning off Twombly’s “Untitled, a 5×6 foot canvas done in grey house paint to look like a chalkboard upon which four rows of loops done with a wax crayon sweep across from left to right. It resembles something you very likely saw in grade school.

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Christie’s has placed a gavel-down estimate of $35 to $55 million for the piece. (Coincidentally, the high end estimate is about the same as the price of the most expensive residential property sold in New York City last week – a $59 million spread at the exclusive and desirable new high-rise One57 on 57th Street overlooking Central Park and the lesser mortals who are not worthy to gaze upon the building.)

$55 million is approximately what the average American would earn had he or she started working in 914 AD. I wonder what it works out to in dollars per inch of loop?

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