“Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes.”
The above words are those of Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. He’s talking about Nate Silver, the statistics wizard whose FiveThirtyEight blog is licensed by The New York Times, and who writes for The Times frequently online as well as in print. Mr. Silver also has a desk in The Times’s newsroom.
As the presidential campaign veers around the clubhouse turn and zooms into the homestretch, Mr. Silver is very much in the public eye.
For months now, he has been predicting that President Obama has about a 75 percent probability, give or take a few points, of winning re-election on Tuesday. He uses an algorithm – some call it a secret sauce — that combines the numbers in public opinion polls and produces a result that he then turns into a prediction.
That has endeared him to liberals and Democrats, just as it has infuriated conservatives and Republicans. Mr. Silver himself has said that he supported Mr. Obama in 2008 but his work tends to focus on numbers, not policy and politics.
He has been out there promoting his book, “The Signal and the Noise,” which has increased his visibility further. In short, he’s everywhere and his name is on everyone’s lips.
As Brendan Nyhan noted in Columbia Journalism Review, some pundits resent him because his methods represent a mortal threat to traditional “horse race” political commentary.
His skirmish with Mr. Scarborough is especially high profile. Mr. Scarborough, as noted above, disagrees with Mr. Silver’s prediction, calling the race a dead heat and saying that Mr. Silver is a fool to say otherwise.
Mr. Silver is quite accurate in his argument against Mr. Scarborough. He clearly says that the closeness of the popular vote does not affect the probability that Mr. Obama will win. They are, simply, two very different things.
So on Thursday, frustrated and irritated, Mr. Silver challenged Mr. Scarborough to a wager in a Twitter message — $1,000 to the Red Cross. (The offer later climbed to $2,000.)
If Mr. Obama wins, Mr. Scarborough pays up; if Mitt Romney wins, Mr. Silver does the same.
So far, Mr. Scarborough isn’t biting on the offer and I could not reach him for comment Thursday.
In a phone conversation, Mr. Silver described the wager offer as “half playful and half serious.”
“He’s been on a rant, calling me an idiot and a partisan, so I’m asking him to put some integrity behind it,” he said. “I don’t stand to gain anything from it; it’s for charity.”
He added that he is feeling the strain of being under attack and vulnerable to criticism as Election Day approaches.
“It’s a high-stress time,” he said.
I can understand and sympathize with that.
But whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome.
It’s also inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member.
“I wouldn’t want to see it become newsroom practice,” said the associate managing editor for standards, Philip B. Corbett. He described Mr. Silver’s status as a blogger — something like a columnist — as a mitigating factor.
Granted, Mr. Silver isn’t covering the presidential race as a political reporter would.
But he is closely associated with The Times and its journalism – in fact, he’s probably (and please know that I use the p-word loosely) its most high-profile writer at this particular moment.
When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. But he lost something, too: the right to act like a free agent with responsibilities to nobody’s standards but his own.
Nate Silver's Offer to Wager $2,000 on the President's Re-election is Inappropriate | The Public Editor - NYTimes.com