The Media`s Infatuation With "Momentum"
February 01, 2008, 06:43 PM
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It`s a little puzzling why the political press is always in such a rush to hurry along the nomination process, to declare various candidates dead and to designate others as sure things. After all, it`s been January until a few hours ago. And even in this ridiculously front-loaded primary season, only 10% of the GOP delegates and 4% of the Democratic delegates have been awarded. Further, we`re only four days away from Super Tuesday, when 23 states hold primaries, so you might think they`d wait until then. After all, this is the political press` quadrennial moment in the spotlight, so why would they want to declare it over?

But the press has continued to obsess over momentum, even though there hasn`t been much on display. Four years ago, for example, the press rushed to declare Howard Dean dead and John Kerry the electable Democrat, and the Democratic voters went along with the storyline. So, how`d that work out for them? This year, voters haven`t played along, but the press keeps trying to end the nomination process ASAP.

Partly, this momentum infatuation is due to the media`s love of a narrative. But it also is driven by journalists` incentive structures. They get rewarded for making predictions, but aren`t penalized for making wrong predictions.

I just have the wrong personality for this profession. I don`t make many predictions (at least not the kind of predictions that people want to hear — but I do make plenty of predictions that people find depressing and boring) because I hate being wrong about anything. For example, it was recently proven that one section of an article I wrote seven years ago was wrong. I wrote in 2000: "So, at this point, allegations [of steroid use] against [sprinter] Marion Jones remain mostly guilt-by-association." Ever since she confessed, it`s eaten away at me that I was wrong about that.