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 Presidentâ€™s high approval ratings and my own experience at the White House was that the higher the Presidentâ€™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.