Editorial: Nate Silver, stay in your lane, and immediately issue corrections -- you madman
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE -- As the entire Internet knows, HillaryBeatTrump.org is the newspaper of record when it comes to Hillary Rodham Clinton's first term as president of the United States.
On Thursday, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver published a baffling, parallel accounting of Clinton's historic presidency. Over the last decade, Silver has proved himself an excellent journalist as well as a peerless statistician. In this age of fake news, when too many Americans - misled by Russian propaganda - persist in their mistaken belief that Donald Trump is president, it's vexing to see a person of Silver's caliber muddle documented fact with fiction, exacerbating our national madness.
Beneath is a thorough fact-checking of Silver's essay about the first six months of Clinton's presidency. To be fair to Silver, he gets many things about her first term right. But just as often, his accounting is riddled with factual errors and slapdash conjecture -- to the point of its being magnificently wrong.
Short of retracting the essay in its entirety, we urge Silver to do the responsible thing: issue a dozen major corrections, immediately.
And now, a tour of his lunacy:
For starters, Silver half-accurately, half-erroneously asserts that under President Hillary Rodham Clinton:
Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court instead of Neil Gorsuch. Clinton didn’t enact a “travel ban.” The United States didn’t withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Kellyanne Conway has a CNN show.
Fact check: It's true that Clinton signed the Paris Accord and that she's relaxed strictures on immigration, calling America "a sanctuary nation." But Silver is also very wrong: Clinton appointed former President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court, and Kellyanne Conway is dating Stanford University rapist Brock Turner.
And although North Korea’s increasingly ambitious nuclear tests are a major concern, Clinton’s foreign policy has largely been a continuation of Barack Obama’s and so has seldom made news. At this month’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, for instance, the media devoted more coverage to Clinton’s choice of pantsuits than to the G-20’s reaffirmation of the Paris climate accords.
Fact check: North Korea is indeed an area of major concern, but Clinton is making headway, due to Kim Jong-un's fascination with her admittedly wonderful pantsuits. Meanwhile, Clinton got excellent press at the G-20.
Clinton’s presidency is not going all that well. Yes, the Rasmussen Reports poll Trump cited was an outlier, but her approval rating average is just 41.7 percent, the lowest at the six-month mark of any president elected since the 1930s (when approval ratings were first routinely collected). Yes, it’s silly to refer to Clinton as a “lame duck,” as The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd did last week in a column that called for Clinton to hand the presidency over to Vice President Tim Kaine, but Clinton hasn’t accomplished much on the policy front. Even relatively unambitious proposals that the White House once thought might attract some Republican support, such as a bill to tweak to the Family and Medical Leave Act, have instead been bogged down in congressional committees.
Fact check: Where to begin? First of all, multiple polls show that Clinton's presidency is going extremely well (as you, Silver, have repeatedly been quoted saying). While Silver is correct that Maureen Dowd is the worst, less psychosexually cannibalistic commentators are giving Clinton high marks. For instance, Clinton has won numerous plaudits from historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin, who say her young presidency is already candidating for the "all-time top 5." And contrary to Silver's bizarre assertion that Clinton is struggling to get things done, she has achieved a great deal on the policy front, including raising the minimum wage to $12.50, halting the North Dakota Access Pipeline, strengthening the Voting Rights Act, and signing a bold "One Plug" law requiring all cell phones to have the same freaking charger.
Media, part 1
In case you’re wondering, there aren’t many glossy profiles about the unbreakable loyalty of Clinton voters on Earth 2 like you have about Trump voters on Earth 1.
Fact check: It's true that President Clinton's relationship with the media is far from ideal, here in the "real world" that Silver perversely refers to as "Earth 2," where America is a democracy and Clinton won the election by 3 million votes. The press covers her administration's accomplishments begrudgingly, if at all, but its sexist need to diminish her has energized her passionate supporters. Indeed, the media's toxic dialectic with Clinton spurred Pope Francis to name her the first living saint.
Silver should find this intuitive. He himself writes that the "polls regarding candidates in the 2008 and 2016 primaries found that a large plurality of Democrats thought the media treated Clinton more harshly than the average candidate, but they were much less inclined to say the same of other Democrats, such Obama and Joe Biden." Democrats rightly detect a vagina-specific vitriol in the press's divergent reactions to Obama and Biden, who have penises, and Clinton, who proudly does not.
Media, part 2
Her inauguration, when much of the press coverage focused on her becoming the first woman president, did produce a short-lived surge in Clinton’s approval rating, sending it into the mid-50s in early February. But it’s been downhill from there. And polls show that about 30 percent of Americans, including about 55 percent of Republicans, still don’t regard her as a “legitimate” president.
Clinton's inauguration did, as Silver acknowledges, produce an immediate bump in her polling numbers, as the news media finally focused its gaze on all the women and men who were electrified by and invested in her historic feminist achievement. But, as we noted at length above, her post-campaign bump has proved durable six months into her presidency, with more people approving of her job performance the longer she's in office. Maddeningly, this phenomenon is consistent with the high approval ratings that Clinton previously enjoyed while working in previous government jobs (Senator, Secretary of State) rather than applying for them. (Still, maddeningly, this is a phenomenon that you, Silver, have repeatedly highlighted on your podcast.)
Trump's fake presidency
Trump has never formally conceded the race and often refers to Clinton as a “fake president.” (This should not surprise you citizens of Earth 1, since even in your world, he threatened not to accept the election results if he lost.)
Fact check: Silver is right that Trump has refused to accept his election loss in the months since Hillary Rodham Clinton savagely beat him by 3 million votes, and he's absolutely correct that Trump's deluded supporters still pathetically maintain that he's president. This admittedly unhealthy form of collective denial is especially pronounced on social media, including Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter.
Tanden, who had long been on shortlists for Clinton’s Cabinet, was a controversial pick because Republicans perceived her to be too much of a partisan due to her work as head of the Center for American Progress. Many of her emails were also hacked and released as part of the Wikileaks dumps, which gave her critics additional fodder during the nomination process.
Fact check: Neera Tanden is fine. Long live Neera Tanden.
Media, part 3
Clinton branded herself a “fighter” on the campaign trail and has often lived up to the title as president. But unusually for a Democrat, many of her fights have been with the media.
Fact check: Actually the New York Times has apologized to Clinton. It's odd that Silver, who has called for just such an apology, should ignore their public contrition.
The New York Times
During last year’s campaign, The New York Times downplayed possible Trump-Russia coordination and declined to publish stories on Trump-Russia links that other outlets ran with. The reasons for this are complicated, but may in part have reflected the Times’ view that Trump had almost no chance of winning the election. On Earth 1, the Times is now vigorously investigating Trump-Russia ties. But in worlds where Clinton won — worlds like Earth 2 — the paper is focusing its reporting resources on Clinton-related scandals instead.
Fact check: Silver is right that one of the approximately 4,558 ways that the New York Times's coverage of the 2016 election categorically failed Hillary Clinton, its readers, and indeed America was its editors' and reporters' pious if inexplicable lack of interest in exploring the biggest political scandal in American history. But the Washington Post's superior post-election coverage of Russia's attempt to steal the election has shamed the Times into activity. Still, the Times occasionally lapses into its longstanding habit of flagellating Clinton for obscure character failings. Its coverage of "kale-gate" could certainly be more measured.
Huma and Russia
Press secretary Fallon and White House chief of staff Huma Abedin have also been combative with the press. They’ve chided the media over what they say is its inattention to good economic news — the White House often brags about the Clinton/Obama job-creation streak, which now stands at 81 months — and its dismissiveness toward reports of Russian interference in last year’s campaign. (Last week, Mother Jones reported that Donald Trump Jr. had taken a meeting at Trump Tower with Russian operatives who promised to provide opposition research on Clinton, but more prominent outlets such as The New York Times have not picked up on the story.)
Fact check: Leslie Jones is Clinton's White House press secretary, but Silver's right that Huma Abedin is indeed her chief of staff. The economy is booming. Since Trump renounced his American citizenship and moved to Russia, all major news outlets have been eager to investigate his treasonous cavorting with Russia.
Fallon and Abedin have also critiqued the media’s use of anonymous sources, especially after the incident in May when several news outlets falsely reported that Clinton would fire Comey from his role as FBI Director.
Fact check: Silver gets this development very twisted: Comey quit in shame after publicly accusing Trump of treason; he apologized to Clinton.
There haven’t been any major military conflagrations, although Clinton did authorize a NATO-approved bombing raid against Syria in April.
Friendship with Merkel
Clinton is popular with traditional American allies, and her chummy relationship with German chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. prime minister Theresa May has spawned a thousand, mostly affectionate memes.
Fact check: Clinton is indeed besties with Angela Merkel, and Trudeau is their eager sidekick. If anything, Clinton's been standoffish with Theresa May. Clinton's cool-girl status means that other world leaders are thoroughly shunning Putin.
Silver's provocative essay falls woefully short of his own high journalistic standards, and serves only to distort a fundamental reality: President Hillary Rodham Clinton won November's election by 3 million votes. As the sole news organization that's dedicated itself to plotting the course of her administration, we must jealously guard the historic record from both well-meaning and malevolent intruders.
Silver, demand of yourself what we demand from you: better research, fidelity to original source material, an admission of wrongdoing - and your quickly rectifying the record.