Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Josh Marshall appears to be joining the annoyed at Nate Cohn club

... or perhaps more accurately the annoyed at Cohn's role at the New York Times. 

 The NYT has one of the strongest and most identifiable institutional cultures in journalism. We know this not just from reading the paper but from accounts of reporters and editors who have worked there and, in my case, private exchanges with journalists. One telling anecdote from that last category, a number of these writers have publicly criticized their own papers (albeit usually mildly), but the only one I've come across who was concerned about their employer's reaction and thought they might need to dial it back was from the NYT.

Nate Cohn has always been a good soldier, supporting the standard narrative, defending the paper in the face of criticism, and doing his best to present his employer in the best possible light. Those aren't ideal standards for journalists even in the best of times, and in case you haven't been paying attention, these aren't the best of times.

[I'll try to have my take on Cohn's piece soon. TL;DR it's not good.]

First a small digression. I don’t know if it was immediately before we started recording yesterday’s podcast or during the recording, but what I said was something like this: There’s this weird pattern with the Times/Sienna poll, the most recent installment of which kicked off the latest freakout. They have a poll which is bad for Democrats. Then there’s an election that’s good for Democrats. Then the Times publishes a story that says the results confirmed the findings of their poll. And the kicker is that when they dive into the inner workings of the numbers it kinda seems like they’re right? Sorta? Maybe?

At a minimum they need to do a better job saying what their poll means on the front end. Because everyone keeps getting really confused.

So now back to the latest piece from Nate Cohn. [No link provided, but I assume he means this. -- MP]

His argument is this: the “bad” polls for Democrats are polls about Joe Biden. But Biden wasn’t on the ballot yesterday. The environment for Democrats and their issues is fairly positive. It’s just Joe Biden who voters are down on. So there’s no contradiction. Then Cohn makes the key additional argument that the voters who are really down on Biden tend to be more occasional voters: younger, less white, more disaffected. Those are the kinds of voters that don’t show up in special elections or other low turn out elections but do show up in general elections. So when properly understood, everything actually fits.

This isn’t a crazy argument or necessarily an incorrect one. But when I read Cohn’s piece it seemed less illuminating than a full firepower review focused mostly on bringing the election results into line with the most recent poll.

One example: I’ve mentioned a few times that Democrats have been consistently over-performing in special elections since Dobbs. Cohn classes Tuesday’s election as another low turnout election similar to special elections. But that’s not really the case. In the states that elected governors or state legislators, these were major elections. Equating the two is kind of a stretch. They’re still not general elections. Those are different. But they’re closer. And yet the general pattern of Democratic strength continues. 

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