Thursday, December 4, 2008

Today's Editorial About The 2010 Census Is The Sixth One In Two Years. We Counted.

Today's second editorial, "Rescue The Census," marks the sixth time in less than two years that the Times's editorial writers have railed against the government's failure to properly prepare for our decennial headcount in 2010.

Yes, that's right. Statistics reveal that we are rapidly becoming a nation of nay-saying editorial writers who repeat our opinions over and over until we become downright annoying.

The Times has taken up the cause of the 2010 Census with an almost incomprehensible vigilance. The campaign began on January 9, 2007 with "Common Sense on the Census," written in the wake of resignations by the Census bureau's top two officials. In that editorial, the Times had some very specific advice for how President Bush should fill the vacant top spot:

For his part, Mr. Bush must swiftly nominate a new director — a nonpartisan, professional statistician with solid management experience.

But in the intervening 22 months, the Times has taken a bold about-face. This morning's editorial not only suggests a completely different approach to bureau management, but also specifically endorses a candidate for the job:

The new director should be a social scientist with proven leadership ability on large projects executed under pressure. That’s a short list. Kenneth Prewitt, who directed the 2000 census and earned acclaim for its innovation and accuracy, is the obvious choice. Mr. Obama and the American people would be well-served if Mr. Prewitt were offered, and accepted, the position.

Why the switch? Does the Time editorial board have new information about the talents of nonpartisan, professional statisticians not available last year?

Adding to the odd reversal is the paper's endorsement of Prewitt. Some may recall that under Prewitt's management of the 2000 Census, the bureau famously mailed 120 million census forms to the wrong address. At the time, Prewitt called the mistake "absolutely regrettable." He neglected to call it an incompetent bungle that should have cost him his job.

As for the Times's stated desire in 2007 for a nonpartisan choice, a quick check of campaign records shows that Prewitt -- now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University -- gave $3,600 to the Barack Obama campaign in 2008. Now that we have a Democratic president, apparently the Times has dropped the nonpartisan requirement, too.

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