Steering By One’s Sails…

It’s a classic sailing error among the inexperienced; you steer to keep the sails filled, instead of optimizing where you want to go. So your course shifts with the wind with little consideration of covering ground toward where you really intend to go.

I thought about that today, in reading about the Anderson Cooper story on news media coverage in the runup to the war:

Yellin: I think the press corps dropped the ball in the beginning when the lead up to war began, uh the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the President’s high approval ratings and my own experience at the White House was that the higher the President’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives, and I was not at this network at the time, but the more pressure I had from these executives to put on positive stories about the President. I think over time…

I don’t doubt that the press was relatively uncritical around issues of war and terrorism at that time – in no small part because the President was so popular and they were afraid of the public reaction.

And I equally don’t doubt that the press is wildly overcritical now, as Bush’s numbers have declined and the groupthink makes him toxic.

I do support the notion that workers in the media trend to liberal, urban highly-educated elites, and that they frame stories whenever they can according to the biases of their class. But I do also believe that they are less populist-liberal than establishmentarian (think E.U.) and less ideological than fearful of rejection from the group or by their audience.

To recycle an old quote:

The room was full of mortified silence. Everyone else had done what I did.

Czarnecki explained that his point was simple. When our eyes disagreed with what other people were telling us, we should trust our eyes.

He had a larger point, about artistic vision, which he went on to make. But his basic point – believe your eyes and don’t give in to the pressure of the group is a memory that’s pretty well rooted in me; and as I see sensible people like Kevin Drum explain that the only thing that keeps The New Republic from being the anchor point of modern liberalism is this one issue where they just won’t go along, the image I keep having is of my professor leaning into the wall, holding his light meter, and going “Oops”.

Both of these – the sailing error and the photography one – are mistakes you make when you ignore what you see, and instead see what you think you ought to.

4 thoughts on “Steering By One’s Sails…”

  1. The idea that news departments run by media powerhouses like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw rolled over for corporate is just nonsensical. Look at Rathergate, by all indications CBS corporate _begged_ rather to back away from the abyss and he told them to F off. These were _extremely_ powerful men, and not just pretty faces in their news departments. They ran them.

    And CNN? Does Ted Turner seem like GW Bush’s errand boy? Please.

    This is just a complete failure by the MSM to examine their own pasts honestly. The truth is conventional wisdom was SO STRONG in the leadup to Iraq that anybody seriously questioning Husseins WMD capacity was considered a nut or a provacateur.

    This revision of history to suggest that the MSM new what we know in hindsight all along but were just pressured by the nasty corporate suits to keep quite is revolting. These guys are so tied up in their own egos that they dont seem to realize that if we were to take them at their word they would be even more pathetic. What kind of media can we trust that allows itself to be bullied into compliance?

    We can forgive mistakes, even incompetance. But we cant forgive cowardice and the refusal to take on the big boys. So why does the media prefer to be labeled cowards and company men instead of dupes?

  2. It occurs to me that there’s still a marked difference between “elitism” and “elites.” Elitism is frequently espoused by aspirants as well as established elites like Cooper/Vanderbilt. Elitism plays a regrettable role in both parties, but seems dominated at this point by the Democrat establishment and by leading institutions like higher ed. Consequences be damned. It’s good intentions that matter.

    The notion that you aren’t elitist because your family hasn’t been clipping coupons for a few generations is, well… quaint. And the media establishment is about as ancien regime as it gets.

    Not that all elites are bad. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is pretty funny sometimes.

  3. It sounds to me like the assumption is that if our lauded news corporations had just unleashed some previously restrained team of crack investigators, they would have stopped the whole war cold before it even began. Color me skeptical, but I sincerely doubt any news organization had a better intel network than the various domestic and international officials providing the data. Nor are there any philospher kings masquerading as journalists on the nightly news, who could mae a logical refutation of Bush’s freedom/democracy rhetoric.

    No, this sounds more like the MSM lamenting the fact that they couldn’t sell a pitch against the war before the war, and had to wait a while to start up the decades-old war reporting slant.

  4. I think the US-Iraq history of the 12 years between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, especially the state reached by 1998, was the main source of the media’s assumptions and frames.

    President Bill Clinton, 1998:

    “So Iraq has abused its final chance. As the UNSCOM reports concludes, and again I quote, “Iraq’s conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in the fields of disarmament. In light of this experience, and in the absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is not able to conduct the work mandated to it by the Security Council with respect to Iraq’s prohibited weapons program.”

    In short, the inspectors are saying that even if they could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham. Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors. This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance. And so we had to act and act now.”

    “The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government — a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people. Bringing change in Baghdad will take time and effort.”

    “The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region. The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq’s history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.”

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