In the sciences, the ideal of prediction is given by a test. A guess – a hypothesis – is made about a situation. The situation is tested in some way and the prediction about the results of the test are based on assumptions about the causal compositon of the situation, what factors are in play, and whether one has assigned them a correct value. Naturally, there are levels of causal consistency. Two factors can, separately, have different effects than they do when combined.
In journalism, there is definitely a reference to science, but more for the prestige than the method. More important in the shaping of public opinion is to make predictions that exclude any radical change in the current order. In other words, predictions are instruments for making the order seem inevitable.
This is correctly intuited by the citizenry. For some, this is reassuring. Often the majority will prefer inertia to the risk of change, even if the order itself is changing in such a way that they are exposed to more and more risks anyway. Journalism at the national level is conducted by people who, at least officially, suffer from none of the woes that they often go out and describe. They officially have insurance. They officially have savings. They officially are not addicted to drugs. They officially are not dodging debt collectors or relying on high interest credit cards to get by on a weekly basis. In actuality, none of this is necessarily true. Neal Gabler, a high profile writer, recently published a piece about his poor financial state. The only point of the piece was to say that one of the top ranked non-fiction writers was not in the official state. It was shocking to the extent that the code is mostly kept. The comments to his article were what you expect, people rushing in blaming him for his plight. The blamers don’t attach their own credit card statements or savings account data to show us what state they are in, but they feel pretty free to heckle, since otherwise, it might turn out that it is not an individual’s fault, but the fault of a system that cannot control life style costs like education or healthcare, and that uses technology not to spread wealth and leisure more equally, but to concentrate it ever more at the top.
The code among journalists, which comes out in their careless us of the “we” word, is that they are on the side of the successful. Radical change, of course, challenges the very canons of success.
That kind of change is what predictionis made, implicitly, against.
The deeper level of this use of prediction is to annex, journalistically, the future to the temporal dimention of the news – the contemporary. It is to press an image of a faux eternity on the forehead of the leviathan who represents our current power arrangements.
The critics of the newspaper recognized that the news “thins” life out – it undermines temporal depth by creating a sort of depthless contemporaneity. From this perspective, we can see not only why the press likes to predict, but why it is so naïve about the motives for the impulse to predict.