New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has condemned Nate Silver for tweeting a bet to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough as unbecoming of a Times journalist. Scarborough -- who in at least one instance has stood by his own punditry even after it was objectively proven false -- bashed Silver for his forecast that President Obama has about a 75 percent chance of winning the election because it just doesn't feel right to Scarborough. "Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a toss-up right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes," Scarborough said, indicating he preferred Obama's chances set at 50-50. Silver tweeted at him Thursday, "If you think it's a toss-up, let's bet. If Obama wins, you donate $1,000 to the American Red Cross. If Romney wins, I do. Deal?"
That did not sit well with Sullivan.
But whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome.
It’s also inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member…
When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. But he lost something, too: the right to act like a free agent with responsibilities to nobody’s standards but his own.
We think there was some value to the bet. The huge number of headlines the bet produced illuminated something about the Washington pundit culture and the value some pundits put in their predictions, given the small size of the bet compared to Silver's presumably much larger salary. Risking his professional reputation on a potentially bad projection is no biggie in Washington. But putting real hard cash on the line? Now that's newsworthy.