A comprehensive look at how our writing held up this year.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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One of the reasons I started Tangle is the lack of accountability in the media and punditry space.
Every day, journalists, columnists, talking heads and (especially) economists share their opinions online, often without ever reflecting on what they got right or wrong. A few years ago, after completing my first year writing this newsletter daily, I decided to go back and review my work. The response from readers was overwhelmingly positive, and I vowed to do it every year for the rest of my time writing Tangle.
To my delight, I’ve seen this practice become more popular among other independent media outlets. The writer Matthew Yglesias helpfully calls this exercise — apologies for the language — the practice of "trying to be less full of shit."
Yglesias, in a piece making some of his own predictions about the future, cited a couple great examples of people who were gleefully wrong about really big things and simply ignored what happened: First was Elon Musk, who tweeted shortly after Sam Bankman-Fried's cryptocurrency empire fell apart that SBF would not be investigated because he was a Democratic donor, and Democrats control Congress and have appointees at the Justice Department. Musk's tweet was liked over 130,000 times and got over 22,000 retweets:
Of course, shortly afterward, SBF was swiftly arrested, extradited, charged, and is now being investigated. Musk's tweet is still up, and he’s never addressed it.
The other example Yglesias cited was "left-wing people confidently asserting that Joe Manchin’s objections to Build Back Better were offered in bad faith due to his fealty to the coal industry." Of course, Manchin eventually came around on the Inflation Reduction Act, and progressive activists have since taken credit for the expansive climate proposals he helped pass.
As Yglesias put it, “if Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Ron Wyden had listened to progressive activists’ diagnosis of the situation, they would have pulled the plug on talks prematurely and there would have been neither an IRA nor a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The legacy of the 117th Congress would instead have been a bunch of tweets about politically destructive efforts to kneecap U.S. energy production via executive order.”
I like these two examples because they represent two major stories from 2022 and two clear examples of people or groups sounding off and ignoring when they were wrong. They’re also very different from each other: One, a person making a flippant tweet, and the other a political faction that built an entire strategy around an idea that was just wrong. There are many, many more such examples when you look at the full spectrum of journalism and punditry.
In order to try to be less a part of the problem, I've spent the last few weeks sifting through our archive and re-reading some of the top newsletters from the last year. In particular, I've been reading "my take" and examining how those takes have held up.
As I said last time we did this, I've written well over 200 newsletters about politics in the last year. Each of those newsletters is somewhere between 3,500 to 4,000 words, with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 words of my own original writing and thoughts. So it'd be impossible to review them all in detail here.
Instead, I've taken submissions from my staff and from readers, and pulled a few where I took a relatively strong stance to review. I'm going to share with you key excerpts from my writing and my overarching take, and then a brief "reflection" section along with a grade — on the A (very good) to F (very bad) scale.
Last year, I also made 19 predictions about the future. At the end of the newsletter, I’ll update you on those, along with some rapid fire assorted notes in the same spirit.
I hope you enjoy it.
On November 8th, we published our final preview of the midterms.
In that edition, I had one major point (emphasis added):
This election does not seem particularly complicated to me. It's a midterm election, inflation is high, Biden's approval ratings are low, and Democrats are likely to lose a lot of House seats and probably the Senate, too. Historically, the party in the White House loses 28 House seats and four Senate seats, on average. Democrats' saving grace is that in several of the most important Senate races, there are Republican candidates that appeal strongly to base voters on the right but have very high disapproval ratings among moderates and independents. It's possible that saves them a Senate majority, but I think it is unlikely.
I also warned readers that results from certain swing states could take days or weeks to get in, predicted Mehmet Oz would beat John Fetterman, and expressed concern about allegations of fraud proliferating as delays in vote counting happened.
Reflection: Basically all of these things were wrong. Democrats picked up a Senate seat and almost retained the House. Democrats dominated in swing states, and Republicans outperformed expectations mostly in New York, which I didn't see coming. There was only one state where allegations of fraud became an issue, which was Arizona. Everywhere else, candidates who lost conceded, went away quietly, and allegations of fraud were sparse.
My only saving grace is that I hedged on the possibility Democrats might hold the Senate and also included Simon Rosenberg's optimistic take on Democrats’ chances. Aside from that though, anywhere I made a prediction, I was wrong.