‘Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows’

‘Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows’ November 9, 2012

Here was a tweet sent out Tuesday night:

Obama reelected. For those shocked this wasn’t a Romney landslide, I’d broaden your news viewing beyond @FoxNews.

That wasn’t written by a gloating liberal, but by a frustrated conservative — Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is the chief number-cruncher for the Southern Baptist Convention. (You can think of him as the Southern Baptists’ Nate Silver.) Stetzer measures things and reports on those measurements, that’s his job. That job requires Stetzer to seek and to respect facts, otherwise, what’s the point?

This put Stetzer in an awkward position throughout the anti-pollster, anti-fact wave of evangelical politics ca. 2012. He writes about this in “Politics, Pollsters, and Fox News: Don’t Create a ‘Conservative’ Set of Facts“:

As a pollster and an evangelical Christian, several people have asked me to weigh in on polls and this election.

I’ve commented several times about the polls on Twitter and Facebook. … On a couple of occasions, I pointed out that it was statistically unlikely for Governor Romney to pull off an upset. Also, when I simply listed the poll numbers indicating President Obama “won” the second and third debates, some screamed “no way” (among other things).

Virtual reality glasses, or, if you prefer, an extremely expensive blindfold.

Each time, some folks went crazy, explaining how the stats are all biased, particularly the ones from “those bad people at CNN.” People questioned MY judgment and called me naive — some said I was GLAD President Obama was winning (though I did not support the President’s reelection). Yet, now that everything is over, it appears that my judgment was not the issue — but there are issues of judgment to consider here.

… I don’t have a problem with disagreement, but it appears that some have confused their faith with Fox News — for some, to question the judgment of Fox News cannot be tolerated if you are an evangelical Christian. However, some on Fox News did not serve their viewers well by promoting the myth that polls were biased. I am not saying they are evil, but they were wrong — and some are admitting it now.

The truth is that I enjoy Fox News. … However, if you love Fox News more than you love facts, it undermines your credibility, and I think that is evident in the discussion all over the media today. I’m saddened that many Christians are being included in the groups that “create their own facts.”*

Conor Friedersdorf offers similar reflections in his post-election post-mortem at The Atlantic,How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File“:

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what?

You haven’t just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven’t tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they’ve done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

Why do you keep putting up with it?

… In conservative fantasy-land, Richard Nixon was a champion of ideological conservatism, tax cuts are the only way to raise revenue, adding neoconservatives to a foreign-policy team reassures American voters, Benghazi was a winning campaign issue, Clint Eastwood’s convention speech was a brilliant triumph, and Obama’s America is a place where black kids can beat up white kids with impunity. Most conservative pundits know better than this nonsense — not that they speak up against it. They see criticizing their own side as a sign of disloyalty. I see a coalition that has lost all perspective, partly because there’s no cost to broadcasting or publishing inane bullshit. In fact, it’s often very profitable. A lot of cynical people have gotten rich broadcasting and publishing red meat for movement conservative consumption.

On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the MSM is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while The New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.

It ought to be an eye-opening moment.

“Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows.”


(If you can’t watch video, here’s a transcript.)

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* Just to be clear, Stetzer is a pollster, so his point here is to lament that Christians are willing to “create their own facts” when it comes to polling data and survey responses. He still believes that Christians can, and should, create their own facts when it comes to evolution, biology, geology, astronomy, etc. When it comes to “Christians creating their own facts” about evolution, the Southern Baptist Convention says it’s not just acceptable, it’s mandatory.

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