Nate Silver: The Peter Principle at work - Los Angeles Post-ExaminerLos Angeles Post-Examiner

Nate Silver: The Peter Principle at work

Back on May 20 I expressed skepticism in these columns that Nate Silver would succeed in his admirable, boldly expressed goal of Changing the Face of American Journalism with his visionary new news website under ESPN.

Well, it’s Tuesday, June 17, 2014: The U.S.-established government in Iraq is collapsing; Islamist extremists threaten to conquer Baghdad and massacre scores of thousands in the process; Ukraine has slid into civil war, Russia is chafing at the bit to intervene and Russia and the United States have worse relations than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

At least you picked the right team to win. Go USA.

At least you picked the right team to win. Go USA.

Meanwhile, China is throwing its weight around in the South China Sea and alarming the neighboring nations of Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

All this is going on around the world and when we turn to, what do we read on the home page?

“Southern Burritos are Filled with Good Things, But Wrapped in Uncertainty”

“Elitist, Superfluous or Popular? We Polled Americans on the Oxford Comma”

“World Cup Crib Notes: Day 6”

And here’s a red hot one:

“Whoever Fills Cantor’s Shoes Shouldn’t Bank on Becoming Speaker”

And for a real page-turner, look at Silver’s own “Primary Surprises” story, where he splurges on his usually beloved statistical graphs to try and draw meaningless parallels between the frequency of poll upsets like Eric Cantor’s defeat in his House primary and the occurrence of earthquakes in California.

Can’t you just see the editors at the Washington Post and Politico losing sleep over missing that?

Admittedly we did have on June 11, “The Ukrainian Conflict Has Stunted Ukraine’s Economy Far More Than Russia’s.”

Nate Silver signing copies of his book. Hey Nate, perhaps put down the burrito and start doing some news. (Wikipedia)

Nate Silver signing copies of his book. Hey Nate, perhaps put down the burrito and start reporting some news. (Wikipedia)

Now if the Ukrainian conflict hadn’t stunted Ukraine’s economy that would be news.

This isn’t a story. It isn’t news. It’s an obvious, labored platitude.

This is a title – and subject – more farcical than “Dog Bites Man”

The lesson of all this farcical ineptitude is clear. The Peter Principle is at work again. The Suits at ESPN in their desperation to leap on to the latest fad plucked Silver out of his numbers-crunching statistical analysis comfort zone and dropped him into a real job directing coverage of the real world which he knows nothing about. So he’s sunk like a stone.

A good manager hires staff with skill-sets different from his own. But the only hires Nate Silver has made are his bosom buddies who share his age, prejudices and ignorance. They’re as out of their depth as he is.

The message to the ESPN Suits is clear. They should shut down the whole sorry adventure before they start losing real money on it. And it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that they soon will.

Otherwise, ESPN should just convert the web site into a tame, typical “100 celebrities with the biggest toes on their left feet” Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) web site at once.

It’s that or watch another $100 million go down the drain.

Unlike Disney, after its John Carter and Lone Ranger movie fiascoes, ESPN don’t have the Marvel Superheroes movie franchise to rescue them.

I have a brilliant, bold new story idea for “Will Nate Silver and Ruin ESPN?”

Statistical analysis suggests they might.



About the author

Martin Sieff

Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of "That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman's Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs" (Wiley 2012) and "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East" (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting. Contact the author.

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