Friday, October 16, 2015

Our political journalists, and their expertise

Josh Voorhees wrote a really terrible thing for Slate the other day. I was disinclined to even acknowledge it, but then Amanda Marcotte brought it back up:
...some Sanders supporters have taken to trading ugly accusations, verging on conspiracy theory, claiming that journalists impressed by Clinton’s debate performance were deluded at best or conspiring against her [SIC] at worst, citing online polls as evidence that Sanders was the “real” winner...Even though Josh Voorhees of Slate debunked this talking point...
How did Josh "debunk" it?
Let me start with the polls...Respondents...don’t have even the slightest motivation to be objective; it’s hard to imagine a Hillary supporter casting an online vote for Bernie or vice versa, regardless of what he or she saw onstage... 
Which brings us to what I saw on Tuesday: As I wrote then and still believe now, Hillary was confident, poised, and unexpectedly aggressive. That, I concede, is a subjective opinion—as is any that calls a “winner” in a contest where there is no agreed-on metric to actually score the participants. But it’s also an informed one.
So in other words, Voorhees "debunked" his critics with a naked appeal to expertise -- since journalists, unlike their readers, are "objective" and "informed".

I'm not going to spend much time on the question-begging proof that journalists aren't biased because they are "objective", but the second claim caught my attention. It reminded me of Annie Lowery, another journalist who claimed to be better informed than her ("economically illiterate") critics - but who, I noted earlier this week, only has a B.A. in English. These days I'm reflexively skeptical of journalistic claims to expertise, so I decided to look into this a little further. Seal Press:
Amanda Marcotte graduated summa cum laude from St. Edward’s University with a BA in English literature.
Josh, on Google+:
Davidson College
English, 2000 - 2004
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Online Journalism, 2006 - 2007
That's what Marcotte and Voorhees have: a lot of bluster and a couple of undergrad English degrees. As far as I can tell, that's it. The substance of his analysis is just an endless chain of conjecture, with no special knowledge or insight to recommend it. If there's a reason to value either of their opinions any more than any of the nameless respondants of the online polls -- or to have any more faith in their totally disinterested objectivity -- that reason, here, is nowhere to be found.