I was reading a political blog, Ezra Klein’s over at the Washington Post, earlier today, and I noticed him describing a phenomenon that applies to sports as well. I’m loathe to bring up politics here, because I’m not really interested in debating them, so suffice it to say I just want to share the analogy.
Basically, political reporting on the Obama cabinet’s economic plans had spent an inordinate amount of time on Larry Summers’ personality and whether the people he’s working with like him. But Klein points out that that’s a silly way to report:
Imagine two worlds. In both worlds, the Obama administration pursues the exact same economic policy. But in one world, an external oil shock sends the price of energy hurtling skyward, which retards recovery. Voters feel economically stressed, and Democrats lose seats in the 2010 election. In the other world, the price of oil rises more gradually, the economy seems like it’s gradually improving, and Democrats either hold the line or gain a couple of seats.
In the first world, you’re going to read a lot of stories about how Larry Summers was a meanie who rendered the economic team dysfunctional and impeded the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the economy. In the other, you’re going to read a lot of stories about how the famously prickly Larry Summers managed to keep his ego in check and leverage his considerable brilliance to help the Obama administration save the American economy. But the relevant variable was not Summers — it was the oil shock.
A commenter there makes the same point I’m about to – this is the same thing that goes on in sports reporting and among fans. A player can be trying to do everything right but go through a slump, but reporters feel the need to blame it on something. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. But right now while the Cubs are scuffling, we get a lot of reporting about Carlos Zambrano’s personality and whatnot. If the team gets on a hot streak, expect to hear about extra time in the batting cage or how they all came together around some event or something, even though the relevant variable may very well not be anything that happens off the field.