President Trump deserves more credit than he has gotten for at least one thing—outlasting his critics' prediction of the length of his tenure.
In a post-election column published in the November 11, 2016, edition of The New York Times, David Brooks wrote, "the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year."
In August 2017, ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, who claims credit for Trump's book "The Art of the Deal," tweeted, "Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner." That prediction was amplified at the time by news organizations such as CNN, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, which covered it as news.
The actor and author Alec Baldwin told New York magazine in its August 7, 2017 issue, "I don't think he's going to make it till the end of the year. I think he can't take the ridicule. I think he'll resign." That prediction, too, was widely picked up by other outlets, including Vogue.
Having failed to accurately predict Trump's exit during the first year of his presidency, the press, or at least some of its members, have proceeded to move the goalposts another 12 months down the calendar. "Will 2018 Be The End of the Trump Presidency?" asks a headline in Vanity Fair. The usual rule of thumb applies: if the headline has to be phrased as a question, the answer is "no." Otherwise it would be just phrased as a statement: "2018 Will Be The End of The Trump Presidency."
What fuels these inaccurate predictions?
Part of the problem is a mismatch between the short-term commercial incentives of journalism-as-entertainment and the longer-term commercial incentives of journalism-as-credible-information. As a headline, "Trump Will Resign" gets a lot of clicks. It feeds the escape fantasies of people who deeply dislike Trump. There are many of those people, and they spend a lot of time on the Internet.
In addition to the commercial incentives of click-chasing publishers, there are the career incentives of pundits. Make an outrageous prediction, or write up someone else's bold prediction into a news article, and by the time that prediction fails to materialize into reality, most people will have forgotten about it. If the prediction turns out to be true, however, it can pay off big time.
There's a similar phenomenon in the stock market forecasting game. A whole class of financial pundits go around constantly predicting an impending stock market correction. When the inevitable stock market correction does finally come, some of those pundits will become known as "one of the few forecasters who correctly predicted the correction." That appellation will attach as a badge of honor for a long time to come. No one, though, gets introduced at a lunchtime speech or on CNBC as a stock-market analyst who errantly a predicted a correction for years while the market kept climbing. In the stock market-predicting game, as in the news-predicting game, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish whether the product being provided is accuracy or amusement.
Is it worth maintaining a distinction between predictions that are driven by hunches or wishful thinking and those that are informed by reporting? Straddling both categories was the anonymously sourced March 11 report by The New York Times that, "The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, three senior officials said on Sunday, and President Trump is likely to present it soon." No such plan has yet publicly materialized, though "soon" is vague enough, and "likely" offers enough wiggle room, that the Times reporter may qualify for a pass. The effect of misleading the reader about what is going to happen turns out to be essentially the same, regardless of whether the story is based on "three senior officials" or is dreamed up by a journalist eating breakfast by himself.
Into the same category falls a lengthy and meticulously reported September 2017 New Yorker article headlined "The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea: Could Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump goad each other into a devastating confrontation?" See that rule of thumb above about headlines phrased as a question. Actually, what appears to have broken out in Korea, at least for now, isn't "nuclear war" but a facsimile of peace.
The longer Trump outlasts predictions about the length of his time in office, the more likely it is that he will serve out his full four-year term, or even win re-election and serve a total of eight years. Remember, many of these publications predicting a resignation were the same ones who spent 2016, right up through the election, telling us Trump had little-to-no chance to win the presidency.
Each false "resignation" headline slowly further erodes the credibility of a press that, until the Democrats nominate a candidate and perhaps even after, functions both as Trump's opposition and his foil.
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