Nate Silver: Politico covers politics ‘not in an intelligent way,’ wants ‘to create noise’

David Martosko Executive Editor
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It’s on. It’s so, so on.

Nate Silver, the New York Times election forecaster whose predictions — love ’em or hate ’em — became a cause célèbre in October and November, had some choice words for the news website Politico during a sports podcast.

Silver, who writes for the Times’ “FiveThirtyEight” political blog, told ESPN’s Bill Simmons on Friday that Politico was wrong to mock a prediction methodology that he described as “not that complicated.”

“By the end of the election,” Silver said, “it was just like, well, um, we’re averaging the polls and then counting up electoral votes, and Obama’s ahead in states with more than 270, so he’ll probably win, right?”

“And then what was remarkable to me is that you had some, like, journalist for Politico or something, right? Who tweeted out, like, ‘All Nate’s doing is averaging polls and counting electoral votes? Right? That’s the secret sauce?’ And it’s like, well, yeah, and the fact that you can’t comprehend that very basic thing, right? You know, that says more about you than about me, right?”

Simmons suggested that Politico was “passive-aggressive, coming after you, but they couldn’t really figure out a good way to do it.”

“Politico … it’s like [a] ‘who won the day’ kind of thing, right? They’re trying to cover it like it’s sports, but not in an intelligent way at all, right? And they want to create noise, basically, right?” Silver asked.

“Their whole thing is you have to have a lead story about some gaffe that some candidate made on the campaign trail. … Sports is great, and easy in some ways, because you have games played on a regular schedule, right? Every day, or every week. In politics, you can have a whole month where nothing of any import whatsoever happens, right? But you still have to have Politico produce a paper seven times a week, and that’s when they’re trying to start trouble.”

Business Insider, which first reported on the podcast, suggested that the jab could be payback for a story Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote just before the election. The headline? “Nate Silver: One-term celebrity?”

Silver called the 2012 presidential election’s outcome correctly in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and got 49 of 50 states correct in 2008. Conservatives and other Republican partisans took swipes at him in the campaign’s final days, saying he relied on polls that oversampled Democrats and mis-estimated the turnout numbers.

When President Barack Obama won re-election, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough lost a long-running Twitter battle with Silver, and later apologized for doubting his predictive skills.

“I’m sorry for leaning in too hard and lumping him with pollsters whose methodology is as rigorous as the Simpsons’ strip mall physician, Dr. Nick,” Scarborough said after the election.

Politico was among very few liberal news outlets to question Silver’s expertise and track record.

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