This is the first of two parts. Come back Tuesday for Part 2.
What has Nate Silver, publisher and editor-in-chief of ESPN’s new FiveThirtyEight blog in common with the giant asteroid believed to have hit the Yucatan 65 million years ago? They both killed the dinosaurs.
Silver was certainly right in his exquisite scrunching of Jeff Greenfield and the entire pompous punditry class of the US media. He wrote off 75 percent of them as a waste of time, I would have raised that figure to 97 percent. When you know what every pundit of right and left is going to predictably say on everything they write about, everything, then, clearly all independent, original and adaptive thought is dead across the entire American continent.
What is needed is not a new generation of equally rigid, ignorant young ranting ideologues, but curious, pragmatic analysts of every age, ready to recognize the startling new facts and patterns of a changing world, and ready to follow them where they lead.
The entire American pundit class has flat-lined. Their endlessly repeated “conservative” and “liberal” mantras are as stimulating as chloroform. They suffocate consciousness and understanding, they cannot enhance it.
If Silver and his new blog succeed then maybe he can finally slay the old tyrannosaurs, George W. Will, Thomas Friedman, Pat Buchanan, Paul Krugman and the rest of them. He can say to them, as Oliver Cromwell said on April 20, 1653 to the corrupt and cowardly old Rump Parliament of England, “Ye have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
Silver is flavor of the moment: He is the new Godzilla of American journalism, and FiveThirtyEight is being touted as the new Saturn V of American journalism to boost it back into the heavens.
But flavors and moments pass. Look what’s happened to the Daily Beast and Tiny Brown. Even the truly brilliant Arianna Huffington cashed in her chips at the TheHuffingtonPost.com for a whacking $315 million before the bubble could burst. FiveThirtyEight really could be a journalistic Saturn VI. But it could be a new Titanic too.
To succeed, Silver and his bloggers have to understand and keep ahead of that fearful new world of seven billion human beings out there. And I don’t think he can. Because he doesn’t know that the fearful new world is big and vast and dark, filled with unprecedented surprises and dangers.
Silver has famously said he wants his bright, eager, go-getting new staff to go out there and dig out new ideas, big ideas. I think that is an excellent idea, the best. But I see no sign that a lifetime spent so far in data-crunching the patterns of US politics and baseball is sufficient preparation for covering the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, or the threat of major conventional war between major powers over Ukraine or the South China Sea. The two most enthusiastic data-crunchers ever to run the U.S. Department of Defense, after all, were Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld and look at how well they did in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Silver loves data, abhors bloat and wordiness, so I’ll close this post now. But I’ll offer him a few of the big, new ideas he’s so far missed in its sequel.
Martin Sieff is an editor at Sputnik, the Russian-owned news organization. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008), Gathering Storm (2014) and Cycles of Change: The Three Great Eras of American History and the Coming Crisis that will Lead to the Fourth (2014). Follow Martin on: @MartinSieff