As you may have heard, Nate Silver, who is the Punxsutawney Phil of electoral prognosticators, emerging from his Fortress of Gay Mathmagic every four years to choose our president for us so that we have more time to devote to eating Hot Pockets, watching reality teevee shows, and developing diabetes foot, has taken leave from the New York Time to join ESPN where he will explain wins against replacement (WAR) and Defense-Independent Component ERA to Skip Bayless until he explodes in a flash of blue smoke that smells like fried Slim Jims.
But why would Nate leave what is arguably the most important news organization in the world (if you don’t count TMZ)? It seems that Nate was sand in the lubricant of good news gathering amongst the very serious deep-thinking chin-strokey political writers:
I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.
His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.
A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.
…and the kicker:
The Times tried very hard to give him a lot of editorial help and a great platform. It bent over backward to do so, and this, too, disturbed some staff members. It was about to devote a significant number of staff positions to beefing up his presence into its own mini-department.
And by devoting even more staff members to ensure that Silver’s TI-83 was kept loaded with fresh batteries, the Times ran the risk that no one would be shepherding the fine works of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Thomas Friedman to print, meaning that we would never be aware that American women were getting abortions out behind the Applebee’s salad bar every Friedman unit, give or take.
And then where would we be…?