It’s safe to say that there’s no love lost between Politico and New York Times polling guru Nate Silver. The latter once described the publication – specializing in Washington insider politics — as one that covers politics like sports but “not in an intelligent way at all.” That later lead to a twitter spat between Silver and Politico investigative reporter Ken Vogel, where Silver labeled Vogel as a troll when he (Vogel) criticized a semantic detail in one of Silver’s posts.
Now Politico editor-in-chief John Harris is entering the fray. In an interview with the New Republic, Harris admitted to consciously ignoring Silver’s contributions to polling the 2012 election (where Silver correctly predicted the outcomes of all 50 states):
“I will be drummed out of the profession, but I didn’t [read Silver]. My plate is full here,” Harris said. “I know why people found him interesting and entertaining, and some people found him illuminating. There are people in our gang who think he is overblown and get worked up about Nate Silver. I don’t give a damn.”
Harris then gives Silver the old “complement/backhanded slap across the face”:
“I admire how he has built a franchise,” Harris said. “I roll my eyes at how he gets up on his high horse quite a lot on different topics.”
Politico’s executive editor Jim VandeHei also took a shot at Silver, arguing that the 538 editor relies too heavily on numbers (math, statistics) “to prove stuff that I don’t think can be proved by numbers alone”.
Silver responded to the interview through an email to TPM:
“It’s striking how preoccupied Harris and VandeHei are with the perception that Politico is too ‘insidery,’” Silver wrote. “My personal critique of their work cuts a little deeper than that, however. It’s not that they are too ‘insidery’ per se, but that the perceptions of Beltway insiders, which Politico echoes and embraces, are not always very insightful or accurate. In other words, the conventional wisdom is often wrong, especially in Washington.”
He added later in the email: “Furthermore, Harris and VandeHei seem to lack very much curiosity for the world outside of the bubble.”
He also took particular offense at VandeHei’s criticism of his reliance on statistical/empirical understanding to codify important events:
Silver also took issue with VandeHei’s assertion that he’s using numbers to “prove stuff,” contending that he is instead “providing a critical perspective, and scrutinizing claims on the basis of evidence (statistical or otherwise).” That only works, he said, if you believe “that there is some sort of truth outside the bubble — what would be called the “objective” world in a scientific or philosophical context.”
“Politico, by contrast, sometimes seems to operate within a ‘post-truth’ worldview,” Silver wrote. “Some people think that is the very essence of savvy, modern journalism, but my bet is that journalism is headed in another direction – toward being more critical and empirical.”