Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Getting it wrong is usually right

Jebediah Reed was impressed by a David Brooks' column in praise of meritocracy and decided to check how the meritocratic principles are being applied in the world of punditry—

Noticing our nation is stuck in an unwinnable war (or two), we wondered if America hasn't stumbled off the meritocratic path. More specifically, since political pundits like Brooks play such a central role in our national decision-making process, maybe something is amiss in the world of punditry. Are the incentives well-aligned? Surely those who warned us not to invade Iraq have been recognized and rewarded, and those who pushed for this disaster face tattered credibility and waning career prospects. Could it be any other way in America?

Well, yes it could, as Reed quickly discovered.

... we selected the four pundits who were in our judgment the most influentially and disturbingly misguided in their pro-war arguments and the four who were most prescient and forceful in their opposition....

Then we did a career check ... and found that something is rotten in the fourth estate.

Reed dismisses the conservative pundits as being too much in lock-step to compare and considers only the pro-war liberals and moderates.

Of the pro-war pundits, the best rewarded for perpetual ignorance was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has discovered that punditry is only slightly less lucrative than oil. Young Peter Beinart of The New Republic was wrong enough before the war to be appointed recently to a senior fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, a very audible Muslim voice, has demonstrated that you don't have to be Jewish to be invited practically everywhere there's a camera. And finally there's Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker, who pushed the false Iraq–al Qaeda connection and whatever else the Bush administration deemed appropriate and is now doing very well, thank you. There seem to be no limits to the rewards accruing to this compliant set of pundits.

But on the anti-war side there's been a downturn in the economy. It looks as if income may be negatively correlated with accuracy. Robert Scheer, who had written a column for the LA Times, was fired in 2005 and replaced by the rabid Jonah Goldberg. William Lind, a very respected "paleoconservative," gets his writings into sites such as Counterpunch and, which is no way to make a living. Jonathan Schell has written for the New Yorker and Harpers but mostly depends on the Leftie readership of The Nation. As Grandma Fuse would have put it, he'll be scratching a poor behind till the day he dies. And finally there's Scott Ritter, who as a U.N. weapons inspector actually knew something about WMD. True expertise in a subject is an almost certain path to oblivion.

So there you have it. The rewards for being wrong as a pundit seem to parallel the rewards for being wrong, corrupt or stupid for members of the Bush administration. Jebediah Reed's survey is a delightful read and goes a long way toward explaining why we are so poor here at Simply Appalling.

And speaking of being wrong, have you noticed a tendency recently for former pro-war pundits who've reversed their positions to get all huffy when reminded that they've changed their tune? For instance, here's [video for Jan. 11, ~36:30] Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the U.N.—

ROSE: [addressing Fareed Zakaria and Richard Holbrooke] Both of you guys supported the war in the beginning.

HOLBROOKE: Ah, you bring that up every time, Charlie!

Amnesia is a "must" for a successful pundit.

Related post
The punditry gap (10/27/04)


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