Predictions, Prophecies and the Perils of Prognostication

Posted: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 5:18pm

One of the things that I promise reporters who appear on “Washington Week” is that they will never have to make predictions. Even on the PBS NewsHour, where many of our guests actually make their livings by peering into crystal balls, we shy away from the practice.

My aversion to prediction is a fairly simple one. I, at least, am often wrong.

Think about 2010. Could anyone have predicted a catastrophic oil spill would cripple the Gulf? Could anyone have known we would exit Iraq but it would take nine months after the elections for the new president to actually form a government?

What kind of clairvoyance would it have taken to invent a U.S. Senate nominee who would have to disavow her connection to witchcraft? Or two reality series that would feature Palins shooting caribou and dancing the jive?

Even more seriously, it’s probably fair to say few of us expected the President to sign a health care law that cheered Democrats, and then take credit for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts that made those same Democrats furious

And ask any of the three ousted Democrats Judy Woodruff interviewed this weekTom Periello, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and James Oberstar – whether they saw their political demise coming. Ask Republican Charlie Crist, for that matter.

My point is that part of the fun and peril of covering current events is that we never really see the big stuff coming. We sense the rumblings, perhaps. The rise of the Tea Party falls into that category. But there is always a far better chance that we will sleep through the tremors.

So as the year draws to a close, I try to focus instead on lessons learned from what we have already seen unfold.

Was the Thanksgiving holiday freak out over airport security pat downs a legitimate line in the sand about privacy, or was it a sign that – as the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches – we have grown complacent about the way our lives have changed?

Did the wildly unpopular bank and auto bailouts yank the national economy back from the precipice of a second Great Depression, or did they shovel taxpayer dollars into the laps of the very people who had a hand in creating the problem?

Does it matter if there is long-term benefit to be gained in a health care overhaul when, in the short-term, people are still having trouble holding onto their jobs and paying their mortgages?

Frankly, these questions preoccupy me more than the ups and downs of John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. Yet I am convinced that it is all intertwined. And on the days when we convince you as well, that’s when we have done the jobs we are here to do.

Thanks for watching Washington Week and the NewsHour in 2010. We couldn’t do it without you. That, at least, I can predict.

Happy New Year.