"I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea." This was the opinion of HG Wells, author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and A Trip to the Moon. Here is a man who imagined a machine that could take us through time, flying saucers that could bring aliens to earth at speeds faster than light, a vehicle that could get from the earth to the moon, but doubted that a submarine could do anything but cause people to suffocate. It is enough to make you gasp.
In 1903 the idea of flight was not plane sailing for the New York Times. On December 10 of that year, it attacked one of the pioneers of flight, Prof Samuel Langley: "We hope that Prof Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments. Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly…For students and investigators of the Langley type there are more useful employments." A week later the Wright brothers made the first successful flight.
Harper's Weekly, another US publication, did not think highly of the impact of the motor car. In August 2, 1902 it stated, "The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of the many rumours to that effect." Four years later the Bronx River Parkway was conceived and when completed was the first auto express highway in the US.
Just prior to the launch of the Apollo spacecraft in July 1969, the New York Times had to eat its words and retract its attack made almost 50 years earlier on Prof Robert Goddard, the man who built the first liquid-fuelled rocket. Although Goddard's work was revolutionary, in June 1920 the Times did not see it that way and in an article entitled "A Severe Strain on Credulity" wrote that Goddard, who was backed by the Smithsonian and Clark College, did not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
There have been many other predictions by the US media and experts that have all proven wrong. Remember weapons of mass destruction that were fabricated for mass distraction? On July 26, 1990, The Times of London predicted there was a minimal risk of conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. Five days later Iraq invaded Kuwait and this led to the first Gulf War. At an April 2001 meeting on terrorism, Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence asked, "Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?" Guess who he was talking about? Newt Gingrich, one of the candidates in the Republican presidential primaries, seemed to have wanted the Cold War to continue. He said in 1984, "We must expect the Soviet system to survive in its present brutish form for a very long time. There will be Soviet labour camps and Soviet torture chambers well into our great-grandchildren's lives." Who would guess that the Gulag would become Guantanamo?
This brings us to George Will, conservative, columnist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winner. On November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell, Will wrote, "Liberalisation is a ploy…The Wall will remain." So what did Will do in 2012 for an encore? He predicted that Romney would get 321 Electoral College votes and Obama would only get 217. Will explained, "I guess the wild card in what I've projected is I'm projecting Minnesota to go for Romney." Was this wishful thinking or a Will-full attempt to mislead?
Will was not the only "pundit" to go down in flaming exaggerations about Romney's "victory" at the polls. Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, who reputedly contributed US$100 million to Romney's campaign, said confidently, "Romney 279, Obama 259…It comes down to numbers. And in the final days of this presidential race, from polling data to early voting, they favour Mitt Romney.'' Those people who, like me, had to stay up the extra two hours or so waiting for Romney's concession speech, the villain of the piece is Rove who tried to get the Republican mouthpiece, Fox Television, to retract its announcement that Ohio had given Obama the 270-plus votes he needed to win the presidency. Not that Fox News needed any urging. Dick Morris of Fox predicted "Romney 325, Obama 213". He enthusiastically explained, "It will rekindle the whole question on why the media played this race as a nailbiter where in fact Romney's going to win by quite a bit.'' Dick proved to be appropriately named and his prediction proved to be a myth and not a Mitt.
If there is a moral to this article it is predictably that if you have a vested interest in a particular result where there's a Will, there's a way. Additionally, even if you lose by one vote, a Mitt is as good as a mile.
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the sales of red or blue 7-Eleven
coffee cups were better at predicting the presidential elections than the highly paid political pundits who work for star bucks. Maybe they don't like it black.