Carl "The Dig" Allison Diggler is a fictional American journalist. The character was created by Blake Zeff and mostly written by Felix Biederman and Virgil Texas for Cafe, an online publisher of political news and satire.
Diggler, a middle-aged, centrist pundit who prides himself on his "Inside the Beltway" knowledge of the Washington, D.C. political scene, is the purported author of a column published at Cafe and a keen, if clueless, Twitter user. Portrayed as a smug, ignorant blowhard, the character comments on political news and delves into backstory from his personal life, particularly the details of his failed marriage and protracted family court proceedings for custody of his son Colby. Diggler also hosts The DigCast, a podcast featuring weekly guests, with Biederman giving voice to Diggler and Texas playing Diggler's millennial intern.
Writing as Diggler, Biederman and Texas began using their intuition to guess the outcomes of primary contests in the 2016 United States presidential election. By the end of the primary season, Diggler claimed to have correctly predicted more winners than data journalist Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog. However, that comparison may be misleading: depending how predictive success is measured, Diggler either comes out ahead or roughly on par with FiveThirtyEight's model. Texas ran an op-ed in The Washington Post about their predictive success and the ways Diggler exposed the flaws of supposedly objective data-journalistic techniques.
Cafe editor-in-chief Blake Zeff came up with the original idea for Carl Diggler, and hired Biederman and Texas to develop the character and write his columns. Biederman was then a freelance writer on various topics, and Texas was a former contributor to The Onion; both were popular Twitter personalities. Zeff still contributes ideas, edits the columns, and helps to run Carl Diggler's in-character Twitter account, but the articles and social media posts by the character are largely the work of Biederman and Texas.
In addition to ongoing in-character tweeting as Diggler, Biederman and Texas typically write one to four Diggler columns a week. Splitsider writer Eddie Brawley said Texas has "the more polished, literary style" and a skill for tonal imitation of writers like Hunter S. Thompson when the occasion calls, while Biederman possesses a "preternatural ability to observe and exploit the tiny absurdities of online behavior."
Biederman and Texas have semi-fictional counterparts under their own names as Diggler's interns. They have occasionally broken the fourth wall in the column to write articles as themselves when they were, in real life, on-location covering political events on the 2016 campaign trail — under the fictional pretext that Diggler, meanwhile, is stuck moping back in his Park Slope apartment.
Diggler is a satirical parody of the American political pundit class. Diggler has worked in national political journalism for 30 years, starting as chief political editor at the Minnetonka Bugle, and is the author of the book Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman. Most Diggler articles begin with a credo reminding readers that Diggler uses "gut, conventional wisdom and personal experience" when analyzing politics. Texas offered this summation of Diggler's persona and satiric purpose:
Carl exists to satirize all that is vacuous, elitist and ridiculous about the media class. From his sycophantic love of candidates in uniform to his hatred of Bernie Bros, from his reverence for "the discourse" to his constant threats of suing the people who troll him on Twitter, Carl is predicated on being myopic, vain and — frankly — wrong.
Biederman said Diggler "grew out of the craven inanity and absurd self-importance you see in the worst 'wonks' and horserace pundits, but we exaggerated it to make him as much of a clown as we personally saw these people." Diggler writes with adoration for the ceremonial decorum of American politics, but blithe, often oblivious disregard for the plight faced by real voters.
Diggler's persona and political outlook are drawn from specific real-life journalists. In an episode of the podcast Chapo Trap House, Biederman and Texas listed Digger's biggest influences as Chris Cillizza, Mark Halperin, and above all, "greatest hack of all time" Ron Fournier. Cillizza writes for the Washington Post blog The Fix, and his tone and tendency to refer to his wife as Mrs. Fix and his son as Fix Jr. were borrowed for Diggler. From Halperin, author of campaign books Game Change and Double Down: Game Change 2012, Diggler received his desire to ingratiate himself with politicians and to make himself the focus of attention. Fournier, the most significant source for Diggler, covered Bill Clinton's career as governor of Arkansas and worked at the Associated Press D.C. bureau during Clinton's presidency. In Biederman and Texas's view, Fournier gave Diggler journalistic credulousness and centrist belief that both sides of any issue are at fault. Biederman and Texas also cited columnists David Brooks and Richard Cohen for "bullshitting most of the time" but with an "unearned tone of authority."
Diggler's resemblance to specific journalists has been spotted by other writers: for instance, Silver has been described as "the natural O'Reilly to Diggler's Colbert," while Fournier was once called "the real life Carl Diggler." When a Niall Ferguson article compared the prospect of Brexit to his divorce, Jeet Heer compared Ferguson's writing to Diggler's "habit of linking every public event with his failed marriage." Because of the continuous, online, interactive, and source material-"recycl[ing]" nature of Diggler, the character has been described as a work of metafiction. Through Twitter, Diggler has been mistaken for a real person by journalists and even presidential candidate Jim Webb, who retweeted Diggler's over-the-top, sarcastic endorsement. Journalists who Diggler has duped include Abby Huntsman (then co-host of The Cycle on MSNBC), Jill Filipovic (a writer whose work appears in Cosmopolitan), and even Diggler's chief inspiration Fournier.
Diggler's personal life is treated in-depth throughout the column and was described by Sam Reisman as a "richly detailed canon" and a "batshit American picaresque." Diggler is an unhappily divorced father of a "round son," Colby, over whom he is locked in a never-ending custody battle with his ex-wife, only called Ex-Mrs. The Dig. The custody battle has caused Diggler to resent the family court system, and he constantly invokes his concerns about family court in his column and even incorporates them into his political thought in contrived ways. It is also often implied that Diggler is a sex addict, with the character unwittingly making references to his foot fetish and interest in sex tourism and camgirls. In search of love, Diggler briefly dates a feminist NYU student referred to by her Tumblr handle, KweenTrashWytch✨✨ (including the two sparkle emoji). During his period of dating KweenTrashWytch✨✨, Diggler became "woke" and, claiming to follow his newfound understanding of intersectional feminism, endorsed Carly Fiorina in an attempt to impress his girlfriend.
After a bad breakup sparked by KweenTrashWytch✨✨ destroying his posters of Senator Lindsay Graham, Diggler disappeared from the website. He later emerged as the subject of a hostage video, after being captured in Syria by Assad loyalists and then turned over to the Russian government. However, he was able to return to America after the Russians decided he wasn't worth keeping around and put him on a plane to New York.
Diggler's life took a turn for the worse when his horribly-mistaken predictions for the 2016 US Presidential Election led to Cafe replacing him with Diggler superfan David "The Milk" Milkberg as their "Chief Politics Writer" at the site. On top of that, Diggler was evicted from his studio apartment and lost partial custody of Colby. Diggler has partially recovered by writing independent political analysis pieces and posting them on Medium, but his efforts to crowdfund his future journalism work have been hamstrung after he previously used crowdfunding sites to donate to Russian camgirls he met online and accidentally "donated several thousands of dollars to Hamas."
Just as many other journalists and publications do, Diggler began publishing his predictions for who would win each contest of the presidential primary season. Diggler's predictions, actually made by Biederman and Texas without reliance on data or traditional analysis, were accompanied by absurd, grotesque rationales based on Diggler's "gut" reading of the tendencies and mindsets of a state's primary electorates. Biederman said their predictions were made based on "personal hate of a candidate, the broad prejudices of their voters, anecdotal experience, and sexual pathology." In an in-character interview with Complex, Diggler himself attributed his predictive success to "two variables: gut and experience."
In a surprise to observers, as well as Biederman and Texas, Diggler's predictions were highly accurate, and even seemed to match or outperform rigorous, statistical predictive models. Particularly, Diggler correctly predicted more primary outcomes than the models used by Silver's FiveThirtyEight, a prominent data-journalism and statistics blog owned by ESPN. After his predicting streak became apparent, Diggler gloated to Silver on Twitter and in his column, even challenging him to a head-to-head contest. Cafe launched SixThirtyEight, a tally of Diggler's predictive wins over FiveThirtyEight. According to the SixThirtyEight tally, Diggler predicted with 89% accuracy, calling 81 of 91 total contests comprising the primaries for both major parties in every state and territory. In contrast, FiveThirtyEight had a 56% success rate in the total 91 contests, although Diggler counted each race that FiveThirtyEight chose not to predict as a forfeit. Despite predicting more total winners, Diggler's predictions had a roughly equal rate of success as those made by FiveThirtyEight if FiveThirtyEight's non-predictions are ignored rather than counted as forfeits. The FiveThirtyEight predictive model left some contests without a prediction if there was too little data to make a prediction or if the race was too close to call (for example, FiveThirtyEight did not make a prediction in the Alaska primaries), while Diggler made a prediction in every race (including small contests like the Guam primaries).
Following the attention given to Diggler's results, Texas wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post explaining the character, their methodology for making predictions, and what their results revealed about the errors of allegedly objective, detached journalism. In the editorial, Texas said that Silver's predictions were, despite their reliance on data, not falsifiable and thus unscientific, and that they overstated the statistical impact of factors like endorsements based on subjective assumptions about historical elections. Texas wrote that readers of data journalism, such as voters, other journalists, and members of the political establishment, make decisions in reliance on quasi-scientific predictions in ways that adversely shapes the real outcomes:
If the quants had not ignored Trump’s soaring popularity all last year, perhaps the GOP establishment would not have sat on their hands as he waltzed to the nomination. And if the same pundits had not been writing Sanders's obituary before any votes were cast, perhaps that race would be even closer. Maybe a more subjective form of analysis, such as going out and listening to voters, would have understood their passions better than the data journalists' models.
In interviews, Biederman said that they do believe there is a place for data journalism, but that its prominent practitioners had relied on outdated theories of how elections work and failed to account for the unprecedented anger of voters in an ahistorical election.
Diggler is voiced by Biederman, who increases the pitch of his ordinarily deep voice and adopts an accent similar to The Simpsons character Ned Flanders. Either Biederman and Texas speaking about Diggler, or Biederman playing Diggler, appeared on multiple podcasts prior to getting their own show, including District Sentinel Radio, Reply All, Chapo Trap House, and a live taping of The Katie Halper Show on WBAI. Biederman and Texas launched The DigCast on, with Biederman voicing Diggler and Texas playing his intern. Guests have included former Gawker editor Alex Pareene, comedian Brandon Wardell, Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman, writer and MSNBC host Steve Kornacki, and The Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald.
Episodes can be streamed from SoundCloud or iTunes.
According to Eddie Brawley, Diggler's writing has a niche appeal, because understanding the column's many elaborate in-joke references requires a reader to closely follow media discourse on Twitter and the character's own idiosyncrasies and intricate storylines. Diggler's audience and social media following include many "hip" establishment media figures who are "in on the joke." Biederman said he had seen positive feedback to Diggler from people with a wide variety of political identifications.
Diggler's primary predictions have generally received a positive response. Corinne Grinapol wrote in the blog FishbowlDC that "Diggler exists in opposition to objective analysis, but is also a reminder that the idea of objective analysis is an often-impossible ideal disguised as an attainable one. Diggler's biases are not the only ones worth being aware of." In National Review, Theodore Kupfer cited Diggler's predictions and Texas' op-ed as prescient, in contrast to Silver and other pundits who had been blindsided by the unexpected rise of Donald Trump. However, Washington Post blogger Callum Borchers dismissed the SixThirtyEight project as misleading, believing Biederman and Texas inflated the appearance Diggler's success, and urged readers to "not be silly and pretend like [Diggler]'s some kind of proof that data journalism and poll-based prognostication is B.S.; he isn't more accurate than Nate Silver."