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21 September 2000

The Daily update: Gimme a "W"

Synopsis: A pair of scribes got some cheerleading practice, spinning hard about "new" polling data.

Commentary by Brian Williams, Chris Matthews
The News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, 9/20/00

Let's try to be polite about this—Brian Williams and tabloid talker Chris Matthews have not always been good boys this year. On Wednesday night, they got in some cheerleading practice, spinning hard about current Gallup polls. Williams interviewed Matthews at 9:15 PM Eastern; the sign above Matthews' head said "LIVE." After a few introductory topics, Williams popped this question:

WILLIAMS: Chris, you looked at the polls. Where do you put this race as we come on the air tonight?

"As we come on the air tonight?" Several hours earlier, the Gallup tracking poll had sent out its daily e-mail; it put the race at 49-43, Gore. We had it here at our sprawling World Headquarters. Gore had gained two points (see below). But somehow, Matthews and Williams—saddled with NBC's facilities—just didn't seem to have heard:

MATTHEWS: If it continues to close as it has, Brian, since Monday, we're going to see a race that's going to be even by the end of the week. As we reported here the other night, on Monday, beginning—it was 49-41, eight-point spread in the Gallup poll, a tracking poll taken every day. Today, it's 48-44. By the time the phone calls are through tonight, it could be 46-44

Or it "could be" 90-10. As we've mentioned, the phone calls for Wednesday's numbers were long since through; Matthews had just given his viewers the Tuesday result. On Tuesday, Gallup had released results showing Gore ahead 48-44. Again, the Wednesday numbers had come out—at 49-43—hours before Matthews and Williams spoke. But rather than give the actual numbers, Matthews speculated about what they maybe might be. Now let's get back to the cheerleading:

MATTHEWS: (continuing directly): By the time the phone calls are taken tonight, it could be 46-44. If that continues, Bush may well be back in the lead by the time they meet in debate October 3.

Do you think so? Oh please please please? Williams now felt the team spirit:

WILLIAMS: Chris, that is real and incremental movement, and when we talk to you tomorrow, we could have another incremental move.

Or we "could have" another big earthquake. Actually, the "movement" Matthews described was imaginary. The day's "real" movement had long since gone back toward Gore.

Indeed, Bush could be back in the lead by 10/3. We don't have the slightest idea. But we do know cheerleading when we see it. Yo, Brian, Chris! Gimme a "W!"


Wishin' and hopin': Here's the way a tabloid talker broke from the gate on the topic:

MATTHEWS: [Bush] has been watching those poll numbers that show him closing again and I think back on his feet again. So I think that's a very good sign that this may turn out to be the close presidential race that many people expected and many hope for.

The race may well turn out to be close. But who exactly is "hoping" for that? Apparently, journalists are—it gives them thrilling news to report. Yay! It also sets them up to start pushing the guy who's behind in the polls, trying to make the race closer. Our pundits' utter lack of professionalism is never too far from view. By the way, William's interview of Bush this day was an utter embarrassment. Bush himself seemed taken aback by Williams' anger at Bush's critics. Meanwhile, Williams and Matthews spun every topic they discussed. They criticized Gore because he only lets pool reporters attend his fund-raisers. (A "crafty strategy," Williams groused.) But Bush doesn't let anyone go to his. Somehow that fact wasn't mentioned.

Oh well. For the record, here are the figures released by Gallup in the past four days. The gap had gone from 8 to 6. Bush had made a gain of two points. It had our two pundits turning cartwheels:

Saturday, 9/17: Gore 49, Bush 41
Monday, 9/18: Gore 48, Bush 43
Tuesday, 9/19: Gore 48, Bush 44
Wednesday, 9/20: Gore 49, Bush 43