HH: So pleased to welcome Jon Greenberg, national staff writer for PunditFact and PolitiFact. You can follow Jon on Twitter @JonZGreenberg. Jon, welcome, it’s great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JG: Hi, Hugh, thank you.
HH: Well, you called in yesterday and you wanted to talk to me about something I had said, and I am happy to do that. But we have a tradition here. Before I am interviewed by anyone, I have to have them on the show and ask them the two questions. So the first question is have you read The Looming Tower?
HH: Do you think Alger Hiss was a communist spy?
JG: I have no idea.
HH: You have no idea?
JG: No, I have no idea. This is nothing that I have spent an iota of my time thinking about. But anyway, how about your notion…
HH: Now wait, wait, one more Hiss question. How old are you, Jon?
JG: Oh, gosh, I am 58.
HH: Okay, so do you know who Hiss is, or is it just someone who is not on your radar?
JG: You know, I have a vague, general sense of Alger Hiss, but you know, one of the things that I generally find is I learn about history through doing fact checks, believe it or not. There’s a lot of things that I’ve missed, a lot of things I haven’t focused. So if a fact check comes along, maybe you should say something about Alger Hiss, and it really looms large, and I’ll check it.
HH: All right, here we go, Jon. I am here right now to tell you Alger Hiss was a communist spy. I look forward to your fact-checking of it. Now the interview is yours. Go ahead.
JG: All right, so you made a point about hey, we’re going into this debate tomorrow night, and you said something which I thought was kind of fun. You said the voters are going to start tuning out from the presidential primary stuff, because we’ve got sports coming along. We’ve got college football, we’ve got NFL football, we’ve got the baseball playoffs and all that stuff. So I was wondering, that sounds kind of neat. How come you said it?
HH: We have been given reason and revelation with which to work, right? Reason is that which Aristotle points to as being man’s quintessential quality, revelation being Scripture. There’s nothing in Scripture about this, so we have to use reason. Here’s my reasoning, and I use myself as an example. There are a finite number of Americans, roughly 330 million. That means there is a finite amount of time that they can devote to politics times 24 hours per day. Take out sleep, take out work, there’s an amount of time in which they can consume media. If you take anything that consumes a lot of media, and subtract it from that general amount, there is far less left. If we look at the fact that the NFL is by far the most popular sport, though ratings for the World Series, especially when they feature the Cleveland Indians are very, very high, I think you could fact-check that one. It’s only happened twice in ’97 and ’95. Therefore, it must stand to reason that there is less time for politics, because we spend so much time on sports, and I might had, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holidays. So my proposition, and it’s merely my argument, is that it has to be true that Americans have less time to spend on politics between now and Christmas than they have had up until this point. Therefore, tomorrow’s debate is the most important debate of all of them, although they will begin to pick up in interest in December once football season is in a hiatus, baseball is done, and before the rebels really begin.
HH: Okay, well, that all sounds very good. How do you feel about data? And what kind of data might persuade you that say, here’s how, some way that we can measure how people are interested in election news.
HH: Well, I talked to Blake Hounshell about this as Politico yesterday, and he showed me Google Analytics that there’s been a drop-off. And I said actually, I don’t need Google Analytics, and I told him you had called, and everyone agreed with me that my proposition is true, by the way, here at the Hoover Institution at the media roundtable. They all agreed intuitively that it’s true. The only data you could show me that would change my mind, and I’m always open to being corrected and being proven wrong, would be a slice of data that showed me through deep polling that Americans have segregated a part of their life for politics, that they maintain constantly over a long period of time. But I have against that the counter data that we experience in ratings in radio, which is this. And it’s both intuitive by feel of phone calls and by rate cards and other things like that. The year before an election is the easiest time in the world to do political radio. People can’t get enough of it, and it builds until November of 2016. Immediately after the election, unless you have an overtime like Florida, 2000, it goes off of a cliff, and people are sick of it, and you have to shift to different things, and then it begins to slowly build again into the two year cycle. So there’s data back there, both Arbitron and Nielsen that you can go and look, but this is all just based on my experience of 25 years in broadcasting.
JG: Well, it’s all legitimate experience. What I did is I took a look at data that Pew Research Center has been pulling together, because they would go out and they would ask weekly, in a decent sized sample, like over a thousand sample, so you know, it’s okay. And they would just ask have you followed various news stories, and then give them the choices of very closely, fairly closely, not too closely or not at all closely, okay? So going back to a similar period of time when we’re looking at 2007-2011, looking at the fall, what you find is people answering hey, I’ve been following election news very or fairly closely stays about the same. It kind of maybe has a little bit of an uptick through the fall, but there’s, more or less, it just bounces around. And it’s like maybe between 45 and 55, depending on the year. So that is, for me, data that I look at, and I give some credence to. Now you know, if you’ve got other data, I’m always open to it just in the same way that you are.
HH: Well, I think my data would be that I would encourage you to go and look at hours spent watching NFL and then see that in the summertime, it’s zero, because you can’t even give away Browns tickets for exhibition games, and then even the Browns sell out in October, September and November until they become miserable and hopeless, and then you can give your tickets back away. So obviously, there is a finite amount of stuff that people are doing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday that they haven’t been doing before. So I actually think you can’t contradict what I say by any measure, and if Pew wants to say that people want, and I’ve got lots of arguments against Pew, and I’m going to have to hold you over, nevertheless, this is not the old story of anecdotal evidence is evidence of anecdotes. This is the story that there is a huge ratings thing that happens in the fall called football. I mean, it’s just a huge ratings thing.
JG: Yeah, but okay, Hugh, let me just ask you here, okay? So there’s a certain fraction of the population that’s going to be absorbed with football. First of all, if you’re taking a look at when they’re tuning in, they’re tuning in, I think you said, basically Friday, Saturday, Sunday, okay?
HH: No, no, no, that’s not true. You have to wait through the break. That’s not true. You’d have to look at Sportscenter’s ratings relative to the entire year, and you’ll find that they tune in, there’s an NFL channel now. There’s ESPN 1, 2, 3. There’s ESPN Classic. There’s ESPN College, Jon. There’s, I mean, there’s Fox football. We’ll come back after the break and we’ll talk some more about this. It’s not just Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It absorbs, there’s fantasy football leagues. My God, it’s like the blob that ate America. I’ll be right back with Jon Greenberg. Stay tuned.
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HH: Jon is fact-checking my assertion that the appearance of football will drive down interest in the presidential campaign at least by the amount of time that people spend watching high school, college and NFL football, and the World Series, between September, October and November, from the total that they spend on it in August. Jon, I want to give you the last minute or so to tell me. Are you going to give me one Pinocchio, three stars, how do you do this?
JG: Well, we have the patented Truth-o-meter, right? So you know, we go from true all the way down to pants on fire. That’s our shtick. And I’ve got to say, you know, I’m still interested in more data from you, so please send me what you’ve got.
HH: No, I’ve given you my whole argument. That’s it. That’s my whole argument, and…
JG: And I’m glad…
HH: How can people connect with you to give you evidence of the fact that the NFL displaces political coverage?
JG: Okay, so I’d be interested if anybody listening who actually has data on this would tune in and get in touch with me. You gave them my Twitter handle, that would be wonderful.
JG: But you know, the thing is, first of all, I actually believe that people can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think they can consume more football and still pay a lot of attention to politics, all right?
HH: And my proposition is not that they can’t. My proposition is that they will spend less time on politics, because they spend more time on sports and family in the fall.
JG: Yeah, well, okay, but then I’ve got the Pew data where people say look…
HH: That’s not data.
JG: I spend about the same.
HH: That data set, A) would be actually counter to your argument, because it’s not as interesting in 2007 through 2011 as it is now. So actually, you should show them consuming more now, because we have more candidates. But B) I’m not even sure that that is relevant, Jon. I mean, what you told me about it, send me the link, I’ll look at it. I don’t think that’s even relevant to my proposition, which is an argument as opposed, it’s not, they didn’t ask the question. The question would be…
JG: Well, they were asking were you paying attention to political coverage, okay?
HH: But I can pay attention to political coverage. I’m not going to pay as much attention if I’m watching a Browns game on Sunday morning.
JG: True enough, but people have the option to say from week to week, I’m following it less closely, or not too closely, or not at all closely.
HH: Okay, let me interrupt.
JG: So you would see that drop off.
HH: Judge, Your Honor, I have a question for the witness who’s hostile. Here’s my question. Does it stand to reason that unless they ask the specific question, does your political coverage consumption go down as your football coverage go up, that you are guessing?
JG: Fair enough. You’re right. Okay, no…
HH: You are guessing.
JG: If you can find the data on that, I’m game with you, pal.
HH: Well, you, but you can’t find the data on it, either.
JG: I would love it. I would love it. You know, I just couldn’t find it.
HH: You have, I know, so you have to use reason. That’s why we are gifted with intelligence, Jon, because we reason to this proposition. So I encourage you to go and reason your way there, because you cannot find me a Pew study that says between the NFL and political study, you know, political watching, I do more political watching when there’s football on than before there’s football.
JG: Well, look, hey, Hugh, I hear what you’re saying. All I can say is you work with the data that you can actually find. That’s one restraint.
HH: All right, check out that Hiss data, would you? Will you go find about Hiss for me for the benefit of all my guests, future and past? Jon Greenberg from PolitiFact and PundiFact, thank you.
End of interview.