Wednesday, August 22, 2007

VDH is an optimist

Victor Davis Hanson in The Corner:

After reviewing the latest critique of the CIA's failures to foresee the pre-9/11 dangers of radical Islam, and while reading the final sordid details surrounding the Pvt. Beauchamp fables published at The New Republic, and viewing the latest phony wire-photos from Iraq (the poor victimized Iraqi woman holding unfired cartridges as 'proof' of coalition bullets that hit her home), I was wondering who will monitor our self-righteous monitors?

The answer, like it or not, in the post-Plame, post-Scheuer, post-Tenet era is that no one believes much what the CIA says any more about the Middle East; no one believes that a wire-photo from there is genuine or its caption accurate; and no one necessarily believes anything in once respected magazines, whether the Periscope section of Newsweek or anything published in The New Republic. The common gripe is that the administration lied to the public about WMD in Iraq; but what is lost is that once revered institutions proved disingenuous in their accusations and unreliable in their performance

Michael Crichton from a speech in 2002

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all

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