Monday, October 24, 2005


Kind of interested in this NYT memo about the whole Judith Miller affair.

I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor. At the time, we thought we had compelling reasons for kicking the issue down the road. The paper had just been through a major trauma, the Jayson Blair episode, and needed to regain its equilibrium. It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors. I was trying to get my arms around a huge new job, appoint my team, get the paper fully back to normal, and I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction.

So it was a year before we got around to really dealing with the controversy. At that point, we published a long editors' note acknowledging the prewar journalistic lapses, and -- to my mind, at least as important - - we intensified aggressive reporting aimed at exposing the way bad or manipulated intelligence had fed the drive to war. (I'm thinking of our excellent investigation of those infamous aluminum tubes, the report on how the Iraqi National Congress recruited exiles to promote Saddam's WMD threat, our close look at the military's war-planning intelligence! , and th e dissection, one year later, of Colin Powell's U.N. case for the war, among other examples. The fact is sometimes overlooked that a lot of the best reporting on how this intel fiasco came about appeared in the NYT.)

This explanation kinda explains everything that is wrong with the media today, and why politicians fear it so much. I don’t think the media is in horrible shape actually, which is why everything that is wrong can be encapsulated in one paragraph. Or rather one word: Sensationalism.

When war was looming, it was more fun to talk about the war and talk up panicky cases for war. When the war was here and a failure, it was more fun to talk up how horribly the administration failed and misled. Look NYT, over-criticizing the job afterwards does not actually balance out that you didn’t moderate your sensationalism at the time. Binging one day and purging the next are not two extremes that “balance out”.

The results? We get into sensationalistic endeavors (which is why Democrats hate the media) and we distrust the leaders who got us there (which is why Republicans hate the media). Oh, and lots of papers are sold in both phases.

Oh, and Neil has an adorable piece for how the Air Force isn’t explicitly in the Constitution. He seems to forget that all concerns about strict construction, originalism, or limited government don’t apply to the military. Especially in an emergency situation like the one we face today.

Lastly, since this blog is about the consequences of democratic institutions, I’m talking with N. Beaudrot about political science here. Sorta.


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