New York Times quietly admits that the media’s dishonest hyping of phony polls really did cost Democrats the midterms
The 2022 election cycle saw the Democratic Party holding ground on a historically successful level, given the decades-long trend of a new President’s party getting wiped out in the first midterms. Once the dust settled, I made the argument that the Democrats would have done even better if the media hadn’t spent the final month of the election cycle baselessly yelling “red wave” and hyping obviously phony pro-republican polls.
It seemed fairly obvious at the time that this false media narrative suppressed Democratic voter turnout, given that most people are less likely to bother voting if they’re told they’re going to lose badly anyway. Last month I went so far as to argue that if not for the media’s voter suppression, the Democrats would likely have kept the House, and would likely have flipped the Senate seat in Wisconsin. This would have given the Democrats the ability to work around the filibuster and pass any legislation they wanted. But when I spelled out why this was the media’s fault, some folks told me that was a reach, and that I shouldn’t blame the media for the Democratic Party’s inability to get over the hill.
Here’s the thing, though. The New York Times has a habit of spending New Years Eve quietly admitting that the ratings-driven false narratives it’s been hyping all year are in fact false. This isn’t a matter of Auld Lang Syne, so much as the reality that most of the public isn’t paying attention to political news while ringing in the new year. December 31st is an ideal time for the media to confess to its sins while no one is paying attention, in a way that allows it to later argue that it’s good about admitting its failures.
Sure enough, yesterday the New York Times published a lengthy New Years Eve expose which spelled out precisely how the media’s phony “red wave” narrative, and embrace of phony Republican polls, kept the Democrats from keeping the House majority and from winning the Senate race in Wisconsin. In other words, the New York Times is now saying exactly what I’ve been saying for the past month and a half: the Democrats would have won the midterms outright if the media hadn’t dishonestly screwed the Democrats out of their hard earned victory.
Specifically, the New York Times is revealing that because so many phony pro-Republican polls showed Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson ahead by five to eight points, major outside donors were afraid to put last minute money into the race, even though Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes had internal polling showing that the race would come down to as little as one point. Sure enough, Barnes lost by one point.
Further, the New York Times is exposing just how illegitimate some of these midterm polling outfits were. One of them was openly bragging about placing financial bets on the same races it was polling. Two other polls were literally run by high school kids. Yet, as Palmer Report spent the midterm election cycle trying to warn everyone about this, major aggregate sites like FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics were ludicrously including these illegitimate polls in their averages. And most (not all, but most) major media outlets made a point of hyping those averages, even knowing they were full of obviously illegitimate polls.
This means that pretty much everyone involved with the midterms did their job horrifically, except for the Democratic Party. Illegitimate pollsters presented themselves as being legitimate. Major aggregation sites included those polls in their averages instead of having the guts to throw them out. The media, which had already decided that the “red wave” narrative was its most ratings-friendly narrative leading up to election day, eagerly embraced the phony polls and the tainted averages. And let’s not forget how badly the Republicans blew it; they ended up with a historically poor midterm showing, even with the polls, the aggregators, and the media all but trying to rig the midterms in the Republicans’ favor.
What’s galling is just how obvious it was at the time that there wasn’t going to be any “red wave.” The polling averages were slowly but consistently shifting in the Democrats’ favor from June to late October, meaning the Democrats had the momentum heading into election day and were set to outperform historical trends. Then when the illegitimate polls began surfacing with a few weeks to go, it was easy to identify them and omit them. And when a few major legitimate polling outlets suddenly began shifting their numbers in the Republicans’ direction shortly thereafter, it was obvious that they were just nervously trying to cover their tracks in case the illegitimate polls were somehow correct – and so those polls needed to be struck as well.
Given that nothing at all was happening in the real world that would explain a sudden major shift in polling toward the Republicans in the final few weeks of the midterm elections, that final shift should have been ignored entirely. In fact Palmer Report spent those final weeks urging everyone to begin ignoring the polls entirely – not because polling in general is a bad thing to look at, but because something had obviously gone fatally wrong with them. At that point we said that the most logical move was to revert back to where the polling averages had been just before they went insane. Sure enough, the final midterm results ended up looking a lot like where the polling averages had been a few weeks before election day, just before the flood of illegitimate polls began shifting the polling averages and the media narratives sharply in the Republicans’ favor.
And now, in a New Years Eve mea culpa that’s not even really a mea culpa, the New York Times is quietly admitting that the media’s embrace of illegitimate pro-Republican polling is what directly kept the Democrats from winning the midterms outright. The kicker is that while the Times is bashing “the media” for this behavior, the Times is conveniently ignoring that it participated in this behavior just as eagerly as any other major news outlet.
So what could have been done differently? How could this have been avoided? After all, if Palmer Report and a few others saw exactly what was happening during the final few weeks of the midterm election cycle and called it out in real time, there’s no excuse for everyone else in the game to have blown this so badly. But then that’s the problem. The media did know better – it had to – and it didn’t care. One of the saddest realities I’ve had to face in my years working in the field of political analysis is that you can’t make the media care about doing its job honestly just by asking nicely, or hoping the media will come around.
More than ever, it’s clear that the mainstream media is going to have to be forced to do its job more honestly. And the only one who can do that is you. It’s not enough for Palmer Report to spell out in real time how the media is dishonestly screwing us over in the name of chasing ratings. You, the consumers of political media, have to actively push back against the media’s antics each and every day, until the media understands that it can’t keep getting ratings just by bullshitting us.
The mainstream media’s negligently and willfully dishonest coverage of the midterms cost the Democrats the midterms. Now we can’t pass the key legislation that a House majority and 52 Senate seats would have allowed, and instead we have to spend two years sitting through House Republican hearings about phony scandals. You should be overwhelmingly angry – in fact you should out of your mind pissed off – at the major media outlets for how they spent the midterm election cycle misleading you and everyone around you. The media’s lies literally cost us the midterms, and now even the New York Times is admitting as much. Our top priority in 2023 must be forcing the media to start being more honest with its coverage. We simply cannot allow the media to screw over the country with its ratings-driven lies anymore going forward. And that’s a New Years resolution we plan to keep.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report