Friday, 5 September 2008

Prescience

It's fair to say that predicting any event that will occur a year hence is pretty hard, but as an avid (and I should say delighted) reader of The Economist it's hard not to think that their US Election coverage has lacked something in the foresight department.

Three particular examples come to mind. Firstly, there was Mr Obama. The Economist was pretty sure last year that the victim of the right-wing conspiracy herself would be president. 'Can Hillary be stopped?', they asked last September. 'It's looking less likely by the day' was their summary, and they concluded with

Inevitable is too strong a word. But Mrs Clinton looks much more like a president-in-the-making than any of her opponents, Republican or Democratic.


The next month we were informed "All told, she looks likely to translate this into both the Democratic nomination and a victory in November 2008." It took until December for them to start to have doubts, and until February for them to firmly switch.

The more obvious bit of crystal-ball gazing that has been left wanting is who would be standing against the junior senator for Illinois. The newspaper looks spot on with its Clinton predictions when compared to their July 2007 line 'John McCain's campaign nears its end'. He had been upgraded to don't buy by August when he was declared 'Desperate, but not quite over', although this story does end on a positive: 'Mr McCain could yet make a comeback.'

Surely the paper can't be too harshly criticised for getting it wrong on McCain - events did certainly seem to be transpiring against him in 2007, and his financial problems were widely reported. What is more worthy of criticism is their continual comments that the Senator was harming his campaign by supporting the surge in Iraq. For a war (and, in the surge, a plan) that the paper supported, it was short-sighted to imply that only be distancing himself from the surge he would win. This has been proved very wrong, and although she is of course lying, Sarah Palin showed that believing the war is winnable is an asset when she criticised Mr Obama for never using the word 'victory' in his speeches, except when referring to his own campaign.

This brings us on to Mrs Palin. Again the paper is found wanting when predicting the vice-president - suggesting the flexibly-opinioned Mitt Romney, a 'youthful-looking 60-year-old with plenty of executive experience'. Palin is not mentioned in an article in June which suggests several names. Mrs Palin is only mentioned in a few articles, and never in relation to the vice-presidency until the choice has been announced.

So what to take from this? We mustn't be too unkind to the newspaper; its competitors have fared little better. However, a paper that defines itself through its clarity of thought, depth of knowledge and pervasive editorial slant should perhaps be held to higher expectations.

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