Journalists Predicting the Future

The L.A. Times’ David Shaw has one word for journalists tempted to predict the future – don’t:

When a political reporter is trying to analyze what happened and why and what it means in a caucus or a primary election, it can be difficult to resist the inclination to apply those lessons to the next primary and predict its outcome ? and to persuade oneself that this is what readers and viewers want. After all, astrology columns wouldn’t be so popular if readers weren’t interested in what some presumed expert thinks will happen next.

But journalists aren’t ? shouldn’t be ? astrologists. When political journalists predict the future, their predictions often seem to eclipse ? and at times substitute for ? the reporting they’re supposed to be based on. Worse, those predictions can become self-fulfilling prophesies.

His case in point: the ad nauseum analysis of the Dean Scream. I’m with David on this one:

I didn’t find that speech, or the accompanying scream, all that alarming. In fact, I thought the coverage of the speech was far more hysterical than the speech itself. To me, Dean was trying to comfort and encourage his tired, disappointed troops. It was like a pep rally after the home team had been crushed in a game it had once been heavily favored to win. Dean knew there was another big game the next week, and he was trying to rekindle his supporters’ enthusiasm and commitment.

But his comments, and his yelp, were played hundreds of times on television, mixed and remixed into virtual wallpaper in the political and cultural blogosphere. Dean’s candidacy, everyone said, was now doomed.

As the Washington Post put it, “Dean may have blown up his presidential aspirations Monday night with that address ?.:

It was the media echo chamber’s explanation of what The Scream should mean to us, rather than The Scream itself, that became the reality.