Do you watch weather predictions on the news?
It’s odd that every evening news broadcast devotes several precious minutes to weather predicting. I say predicting rather than reporting because they tell viewers about what will happen, not what is happening.
But no one can predict the future, which is why the weatherman is often the most ridiculed member of the news team.
If the weatherman was the only one in the newsroom making predictions, the damage would be negligible. Yet the shift from reporting to predicting is widespread, and the public has come to expect it.
It doesn’t matter that the media’s track record is so bad
In an article on the science of weather predicting, the New York Times back in 2012 had this to say about the failure of the prediction model when it comes to news events:
But if prediction is the truest way to put our information to the test, we have not scored well. In November 2007, economists in the Survey of Professional Forecasters — examining some 45,000 economic-data series — foresaw less than a 1-in-500 chance of an economic meltdown as severe as the one that would begin one month later. Attempts to predict earthquakes have continued to envisage disasters that never happened and failed to prepare us for those, like the 2011 disaster in Japan, that did.
But if the election of Donald Trump tells us anything, it is that the worst job the media does is trying to predict events. The biggest media companies used the most expensive computer models, polling data, and scientific analysis to determine that not only would Hillary Clinton win the election, but it would not even be close.
When did the science of journalism slip into the art of fortune telling?
The real issue is not that they will be wrong about a future event. We move on adjusting to the new reality.
The real problem is when the media, because of their predictions, actually changes what happens. When they actively influence events, they have gone well beyond the definition of journalism. Did many voters stay home because they assumed the outcome of the election was a forgone conclusion?
Which brings us to Israel
For years, the media have been taking a certain line on the issue of settlements. They define these as any Jewish residential areas that lie outside the 1948 armistice line (the “Green Line.”) Although those who created the Green Line were clear that it should not be a permanent border, many journalists believe that it should.
So they take the view that Israeli building outside in this “disputed” area works against a potential future peace agreement.
It is one thing to report that Israel may be expanding residential housing in the disputed territories. But it is quite another to report publicly that by doing so, Israel is diminishing hope for a peace agreement. When they do this, they are moving from reporting to predicting.
Israel is making a peace agreement with the Palestinians more unlikely with the announcement of the expansion of settlements.
It may be true. It may not. There are some who say that building settlements puts pressure on the Palestinians to come to the table. There are many, many analysts and many, many different perspectives. To say — as fact — that settlements will impact a future peace agreement one way or the other is just a guess.
When the newspapers the politicians read every morning say that Israel is preventing peace because they are building settlements, they have an impact on future events.
The Damage of Incorrect Predictions
If people believe that Israeli actions are preventing a peace agreement, they will have a negative view of the country. Companies may pay closer attention to what the BDS activists have to say because the media have “confirmed” it. This may result in the loss of millions of dollars to the Israeli economy and thousands of jobs.
When Israel expands settlements, the media should report it. But when they introduce the issue with a prediction, they can change the news they are supposed to report.
I think the reason that many people don’t trust journalists is that they have strayed from their essential task of informing the public what is happening.
The incredible magnitude of the media’s incorrect election prediction should be a wake-up call. Journalists need to stop trying to guess at future events and stick to reporting facts.
This article originally appeared in the Algemeiner.