Never, Ever, Ever?

Do you recall that day in school when the teacher warned against absolutes in writing? That is — be wary of words like “never” or “always,” unless you are ready to reject all but one option in a world of multiple possibilities.

It appears Peter Wallsten of the Miami Herald was absent from class that day.

Yesterday, in an article about “Kerry’s default front-runner status” (whatever that means) Wallsten wrote, “Kerry has in recent days dispatched more staff members to the key Feb. 3 primary states, but any losses that day would instantly throw the nomination fight into turmoil again and eliminate Kerry’s front-runner status.”

Excuse us. ANY LOSSES?!? There are seven states and 269 delegates at stake on February 3rd. If Kerry wins Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, and South Carolina, which would carry all but 15 of the delegates, would the nomination fight really be in turmoil? Would Kerry’s front-runner status be in question, because Joe Lieberman won Delaware? We don’t think so.

Wallsten does it again today when he declares that Dean, “must finish at least a strong second behind Kerry to move on with any sense of momentum.”

Surely you jest, Miami Herald. If the Iowa Caucus taught us anything, it’s that these elections are highly unpredictable. What if Kerry does not win New Hampshire? What if Dean finishes in third, but the race is so close that it builds momentum for all the top three candidates?

Wallsten is presenting conjecture as news. Nor is he alone. As we have learned in the past few days, the urge to call the horse race can overcome even the finest journalist, and lead to blue-sky scenarios (or cloudy-sky scenarios) masked as shrewd reporting

Reporters haven’t quite faced up to a fact that the electorate itself seems to understand quite well: That in the manic world of the 2004 Democratic primary season very little about the future can be predicted with absolute confidence.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.