We can also look at more everyday economic issues. Every time you pick up a newspaper, you can probably circle two or three items in every section where there’s some piece of quantitative or fiscal information reported that might not be reported all that smartly—so we can do a little of that, too. There was a book a few years ago, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, and we can make something like that a semi-regular feature: just things that amuse or annoy us about reporting—reporting in finance and medicine and certainly sports, which is part of my background, and pop culture—how it’s always like, ‘Well, the biggest box office gross…’ (well, but it’s not adjusted for inflation). Little things like that—the result of having a lot of English majors in the newsroom and not as many math majors.
MG: What’s your daily media diet? Do you have papers and sites that you read every day?
NS: A couple places. If you go to Daily Kos, you’ll just see things based on what people have linked to—sites that kind of play traffic cop, in a way. That’s some of what I do—or Huffington Post, or The Atlantic, or National Review. There’s another one called Memeorandum, where it’s all automated. So you look at those, and you see what people are talking about, and you don’t necessarily have to go to a million different places. I actually buy the paper version of The New York Times maybe once or twice a week, and the Trib or the Sun-Times maybe once a week. I try and read them over lunch. But for the most part, this stuff moves so fast, that you just kind of figure out what everyone’s talking about, and you just go there. And maybe at night, I’ll search over my larger list of links and see if there’s something that’s gone undiscovered. But, for the most part, by the time you hear about something, even if you’re constantly online, it’s kind of old news already.
MG: Is there anything that stands out in your mind as some the media did particularly well—or particularly badly—in covering the campaign overall?
NS: I wish the media had been a little bit less obsessed with race. I think the Bradley Effect got more attention than it deserved, probably. Sometimes they really jumped the gun. During the primaries, for example, some said that Hispanic people wouldn’t vote for Obama because of some race-based thing, and it turned out to be totally false. It was more about, number one, the Clintons are thought of very affectionately in the Latino community, and number two, it’s probably about economic class, and about whoever is capturing that working-class vote—no matter what their race—during the primaries. And during the general election, Obama won those voters over, in every region except Appalachia, basically. So I think people were too quick to reduce that to the race narrative when they didn’t have anything else to say, necessarily.
But in general, I think campaign reporting is a process that got a lot better, I think in part because of Web sites like ours, and people like Chuck Todd at MSNBC who are very good. Part of it is you have this whole big, long Democratic primary process where people realize, ‘Hey, it’s not about the popular vote,’ and different states have different rules for how they apportion their delegates. And by the way, the Obama campaign—their language is delegates; they’re not concerned about the popular vote. Their language during the general election was electoral votes and not the top-line popular vote number. So I think they kind of forced people to think about things in that way, eventually.
MG: You mention Chuck Todd. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between you two—do you know each other personally?