Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Media's pointless speculation over election outcome

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 4:04 PM EST, Wed November 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Coverage of campaign has become a blur of polls and predictions
  • He says in a race this close, speculating about the outcome is a waste of time
  • Media shouldn't focus on campaign officials predicting wins, he says
  • Kurtz: Beware of exit poll leaks on Tuesday; they're not reliable

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- It's all become a blur of polls, predictions and prognostication.

The final days of the presidential race have been a head-spinning experience, giving us a collective case of vertigo as the media deliver their own ever-changing analyses while also conveying the strategists' spin.

If it were up to me, I would ban all reporting of campaign officials declaring that their guy is going to win, or that their internal polls actually show them ahead in Ohio or Florida. Unconstitutional, I know, but it would spare us all kinds of utterly useless information.

Storm swamps the campaign

We all want to know who's going to win. But in a contest this tight, that's almost impossible to forecast with any certainty. So journalists flock to each new tracking poll as if, at long last, the mystery will be solved and the future revealed.

Right now, the consensus has congealed around the idea that President Barack Obama will win a second term. Maybe that's right, but keep in mind that we imbue a 2- or 3-point lead by Obama in a state such as Florida with almost cosmic significance, even though his advantage may fall within the margin of error.

Watch: Getting Campaign Vertigo from the Relentless Media Spin

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Remember when some conservatives were carping that the media were skewing the polls in the president's favor? You don't hear much of that since Mitt Romney surged in the surveys. The notion that a wide array of media organizations were cooking the books was as ludicrous as, say, the charge that the Obama administration was manipulating the unemployment figures.

There has been a manic-depressive quality to reporting on the race, as the conventional wisdom has changed shape like an overactive amoeba.

Watch: Late-Night Comics Savage Romney, Not Obama

A year ago, the media kept telling us that Obama would have an awfully difficult time winning re-election unless the economy improved.

MSNBC's war on Romney
Campaign flap over FEMA

By the time Romney emerged from the GOP demolition derby, the betting was that he was so damaged he was unlikely to win. After the conventions, Romney was viewed as such a flop that conservative commentators started debating the reasons he would lose.

Then came Obama's disastrous first debate. Romney shot up in the polls, and the commentators started saying the president had blown the race. Only in recent days, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, has the press pack shifted yet again to the notion that Obama will win enough swing states to get to 270. That is, unless you believe Karl Rove and Dick Morris, both of whom have predicted a Romney victory on Fox News.

Watch: Why Do Media Deem Obama-Christie Teamwork So Strange?

If Obama does win, the coverage of the president's role in dealing with the hurricane -- and especially his bromance with Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- might turn out to be a factor. Even Republicans are telling me that privately. Given the magnitude of the storm, journalists had little choice but to focus on Obama's role as emergency coordinator, which relegated Romney to the sidelines after a period in which he had been gaining momentum.

But the endless ink and airtime devoted to a Republican governor teaming up with a Democratic president during a crippling disaster was a bit troubling. Was it really so jaw-dropping that the two men might briefly put politics aside with so many lives lost and millions without power or gasoline? The cynicism that permeated the coverage was disturbing.

Watch: Enough With Campaigns Predicting They'll Win

Of course, politics reared its head when unnamed Romney advisers told Politico that Christie had gone too far and their man had almost picked him as a running mate before changing his mind. And they all spoke anonymously, a practice with which journalists have long been too complicit.

Now, mercifully, comes the actual vote.

But if you think the media speculation game ends Tuesday, guess again. Sometime in the late afternoon, the first wave of exit polls will undoubtedly leak, either to Matt Drudge or some blogger, and spread like wildfire across the Web. These numbers will be about as reliable as those that convinced John Kerry's team in 2004 that he had won the presidency.

Smart consumers will ignore the hyperventilation and wait for actual votes to be tallied, old-fashioned as that might sound.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT