Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Robert Waldmann Politely Says He Thinks I Have Got the Carrot/Stick Balance Wrong...

Well, I wouldn't say "peace" with Tom Ricks. To my view, the excellence and the... strong nature of Ricks's conclusions in Fiasco make the tone of Washington Post Iraq coverage in 2002, 2003, and 2004 that much more reprehensible. One would, I think, have gotten a much better idea of what was going on back then by ditching Ricks and the Post and relying on Knight-Ridder and the Manchester Guardian.

Apropos of which, here's a snippet from Tom Ricks today:

"I have the blood of American troops on my hands.": Reporter and Fiasco author Tom Ricks:

I asked one officer, "Why are you talking to me about these things?"

And he looked down at his hands, and he said, "Because I have the blood of American troops on my hands."

And I said, "What do you mean?"

And he said, "Because when I said to Rumsfeld we need that division, and Rumsfeld said no, I gave up. I compromised." And he said, "U.S. troops died because of that." And he said, "That's why I'm talking to you."... And he was practically crying as he spoke to me about this...

that should be reads alongside this exchange between Ricks and Kurtz:

KURTZ: [Y]ou write, quote, in the run-up to the war, quote, "The media didn't delve deeply enough into the issues surrounding war, especially the threat of Iraq and the cost of occupying and remaking the country. We're seeing those costs right now." Why didn't the media delve more deeply? Was there a certain level of intimidation?

RICKS: I don't think it was so much as intimidation... Congress didn't hold hearings in which credible information was presented that said, no, the administration's case is wrong.

KURTZ: Since when do reporters have to wait for Congress to hold hearings?

RICKS: ...Congress... the engine of government. And if Congress is asleep... at some point your editors say, why do you keep writing about doubts about this war, when it's going to happen?

KURTZ: Do you include yourself in this indictment? Did you run into that kind of skepticism from your "Washington Post" editors?

RICKS: Absolutely. There was a sense that, look, this thing is going to happen. You've written a lot of stories about the doubts about the war. Give us more stories about the war plan, because it is going to happen, whether or not all these generals oppose it....

However, Fiasco is quite good.

All this is prelude to the fact that I think Robert Waldmann has interesting things to say:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: Brad DeLong makes peace with Tom Ricks first by telling people to listen to him on the radio and now in this interesting post. I thought I had something useful to say about it, but I don't so I won't pollute Brad's comment thread with my comment which I dump here.

I remember reading Ricks's explanation years ago, written by Michael Ignatieff (sp? google won't show it to me), about how reporters didn't report the truth on Iraq because of their "professionalism" which requires them to present views that range from the mainstream of the Democratic party to the [mainstream of the Republican party] loony right.

Evidently Kucinic and and the love-one-another caucus aren't mainstream enough to count (Drew agrees and so do I).... This is, as has been noted by many people, absolutely awful. If the press is obliged to accept the conventional wisdom (of politicians: most ordinary people weren't on board yet) then they are worthless.

Ricks... says his editors said there was no need to inform a debate about whether Iraq should be invaded, because [invasion] was going to happen anyway.... The slogan appears to be "don't speak truth to power"... what Drumheller claims he was told when he expressed doubts about Curveball. This definitely has nothing to do with finding and reporting the truth... the Post's editors do not see their job as informing their readers but rather as influencing politicians. Only powerful people count. If they agree, the matter is decided. The public doesn't matter.

[T[he dread Kurtz line about "objective"... Auros puts it exactly right

Kurtz has -- like most media figures -- confused "objective" and "impartial". If one has a liking for -- a partiality towards -- actual, factual truth, then it is difficult to remain impartial in the face of lies and stupidity....

It is not enough to refrain from drawing conclusions without proof, it is necessary to draw no conclusions even if there is proof.... [Ricks[ interprets [Kurtz's] question as one about being frozen out by the Defense Department, or maybe he interprets as an accusation that he is not supporting the troops. Now... answering the question that Kurtz should have asked might be a diplomatic way to avoid accepting Kurtz's premise, but... there is a third meaning of "objective"[:] "one should be objective" = "one should reach no conclusions even with proof beyond reasonable doubt" = "one should maintain access"....

[These meanings] have become confused leaving reporters vulnerable to the Rovian technique of giving access only to people who would write "opinions about shape of earth differ."... [A] failure of the invisible hand (which guides the marketplace of ideas as well as the marketplace)... the selfish aim to be a top reporter is useful... [if] the way to be a top reporter is to report interesting and important news. However, some reporters (and newspapers) are prominent because they get the top leaks.... The effort to get the leaks serves the selfish aim of the reporter who wants to be important but it adds nothing to the information available to readers. Reporters who put a pro-administration spin on the leaks they get are serving their own interests at the expense of the public interest.

Now it should be possible to change this, because a lot of what reporters are after is bragging rights. The condemnation of source-buffing reporting on the web might alleviate the problem.

On the other hand, the proper use of carrots and sticks is to whack those who misbehave and give carrots when they reform. The Brad and Billmon approach has been to remind the reformed of their past misdeads. This does not creat useful incentives, so I am very glad that Brad has made peace with Ricks.

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