A few years ago, Bill Kristol rocked the political world by speculating that Colin Powell would likely endorse then-Senator Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention. Powell didn't, of course — but Kristol still got the Drudge link and dominated the news cycle for a few days (in fairness, Powell did endorse Obama... months later.)
Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, and in this regard, Kristol is hardly alone. But there seems to be no disincentive for doing so. As James Surowiecki writes in the The New Yorker (regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370), "There are forecasting professions where this happens: stock analysts who err are more likely to get fired. But in the media mistaken conjectures tend to be quickly forgotten, so there's little downside to being bold and wrong." (Sometimes, of course, bad predictions do haunt the predictor. But that is rare — and essentially requires someone to almost intentionally tempt fate.)
For those hoping to solve this problem, groups like PunditFact have sprung up to fact-check pundits' claims. This sounds like a positive development, but the utopian notion that innovations will solve our problems usually ignores the fact that they also create them.
At the risk of injecting a horrible idea into the bloodstream, let me tell you where treating commentators like candidates likely leads. How long before outside groups start "scoring" conservative and liberal pundits? Here's what we can expect in to hear in the future: "Matt Lewis was invited on TV to debate a liberal? Did you know he only has a 76 percent rating from the Conservative Senate Action Fund Project?!?"
Welcome to the brave new world of punditry.