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 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
updated 12:42 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
updated 4:29 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
updated 5:00 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
updated 11:57 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
updated 1:21 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT