Thursday, December 30, 2004

Rerun season

Originally posted Wednesday, September 29, 2004

On leaks, bias and truth

Justoneminute notes that the Plame/Wilson leak investigation hasn't turned out like the press had hoped. Safire lays on the bombast and trots out the usual justifications.

The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before.
Leaks, for good or ill, are an integral part of modern journalism. Without them the Times, CBS, and Newsweek would publish fewer stories of much shorter length. Investigative journalism as it is now practiced could not exist. So leaks make news and, thus, generate information.

But, as Edward Jay Epstein* noted his book Deception, they do so while withholding critical information about context, the motivations for the disclosure, and the professional competence of the person making the statements.

In short, while they generate information, they may not add anything to the store of knowledge; they may, in fact, subtract from it. Amb. Wilson's leaks, after all, created a false picture of pre-war intelligence and the honesty of the current administration. We do not know if the "Pentagon sources" telling Hersh that Iraq is the new Vietnam are the same people who told him in October 2001 that Afghanistan was the new Vietnam.

As Epstein also points out, journalism's reliance on leaks separates it from traditional scholarly disciplines where the search for truth is inextricably tied to the explicit discussion of sources and methods.

Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

One of the ways the ideological bias of journalists manifests itself is in their decision to focus on either the leak or the story. They care about the disclosure of Plame's status as a CIA officer; they didn't care about the illegal release of Linda Tripp's personnel records by a Clinton political appointee. The timing of the Berger revelations is a matter of grave concern; the motivation of those who gave the Abu Ghraib photos to Seymour Hersh is a matter of indifference. The Pentagon sources warning us of a new Vietnam are treated as pure truth-tellers; no one asks if they are evidence of a defeatist coterie who are mired in the mindset of 1968.

Bias can also be a factor in how other journalists treat the "scoop." Both Bill Gertz and Sy Hersh have many talkative contacts in the Pentagon. The rest of the MSM is ignorant about those source's identity, credibility, and competence. Nevertheless, ABC or the LA Times are far more likely to run with a Hersh story that one by Gertz.

Why? How can the reader/viewer be certain that this has nothing to do with Hersh's reflexive anti-Rumsfeld slant or Gertz's pro-brass slant?

Epstein also hones in on some murky ethical questions.

By concealing the machinations and politics behind a leak, journalists suppress part of the truth surrounding a story. Thus, the means by which the medical records of Senator Thomas Eagleton were acquired and passed on to the Knight newspapers (which won the 1973 Pulitizer Prize for disclosing information contained in these records) seems no less important than the senator's medical history itself, especially since copies of the illegally obtained records were later found in the White House safe of John Ehrlichman.
We agree that it was wrong for Ehrlichman to possess the records and wrong for him to share them with ANYONE. Yet, the journalism profession celebrated the reporters who told millions about Eagleton's psychiatric history. Reconciling those positions requires a level of sophisticated (and sophistic) reasoning that makes angels dancing on pins look like child's play by comparison.

In many cases, acceptance of leaked material compromises reporters. To protect their source and to ensure future scoops, they tacitly agree to ignore part of the story. They have the privilege of revealing that Candidate A had a mistress who bore him a son and that Candidate B was addicted to cocaine. What they cannot reveal is that Candidate C is employing a stable of private detectives to dig up dirt on the opposition. Those detectives, after all, are the source of the headline-grabbing stories.

When a reporter uses an anonymous source, it is implied that it is dangerous for him/her to speak out publicly. This usually casts the other side-- the nonleaker-- in an unfavorable light. The target of the leak is not just wrong-- they are engaged in a cover-up and are prepared to retaliate against their opponents. However, we have only the source's word for this. A crucial part of the story-- the part that adds drama-- has to be accepted on faith.

Increasingly we see another type of murkiness from the widespread use of leaks. They are defended because they help the pursuit of truth. But when the leak itself becomes the issue, journalist's refusal to reveal sources becomes a barrier to truth: it prolongs a controversy that could be put to bed quickly.

In the Plame 'outing' or the revelation of the Berger investigation the big question is "who told?" This might be more important than the specific information conveyed to reporters. The conventions of journalism are a huge obstacle to answering that question.

Former Army intelligence officer Col. Stuart A. Herrington made an astute observation in his book Traitor's Among Us:
In the unique world occupied by our media colleagues, trusted government civil servants who betray sensitive information are First Amendment heroes.
He speaks from experience. He nearly had a years-long investigation blown apart because some one leaked news of it to the New York Times.

It is another strange bit of reasoning: A reliable and trustworthy source is someone willing to break trust with his or her colleagues and betray the confidences of their friends.

* Epstein's book, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism is out of print. It is well worth picking up a used copy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


The New Criterion has a lengthy consideration of her career here.

The only thing they left out was Tom Wolfe's assessment in Hooking Up:
Actually she was just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at partisan Review

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Another fake hate crime

Man Admits Hate Crime Attack Was False

HT: Michelle Malkin

Steve Sailer noted the outcome of another hoax a few days ago:

Justice is served:
A former Claremont McKenna College visiting professor, who spray-painted her car with racist and anti-Semitic slurs and then reported a hate crime on campus, was sentenced today to a year in state prison. Pomona Superior Court Judge Charles Horan said Kerri Dunn "terrorized" minority students at the college and turned the rest of the students into suspects, adding that her actions could have sparked major racial violence. He likened her actions to calling in a fake bomb threat, saying it had the effect of terrorizing people.

Reggie White

I think Colby Cosh does the best job summing up his pro career and his "controversial" statement after his first retirement.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I heartily agree

Spoons and Xrlq think The Corner sucks. This fault is especially irritating:

Lack of Hat Tips: This may be the most annoying fault of all. Certain bloggers over at the Corner (again, especially KLo), don't seem to understand the rules of tipping where you got a story from. I swear sometimes it seems like some Cornerites just stare at Michelle Malkin's page all day, and then crib from those posts (a little too closely, at times), for their own material. Come on, guys. You can do all sorts of referencing and quoting as long as you give proper credit. What's so hard?

See also here.

Rerun season

Originally posted Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Credit Where Due

Many posts and articles on the Berger matter quote Richard Clarke's verdict that the Millennium plot to bomb LAX was foiled by luck. Luck, in the sense of a fluke occurrence, had nothing to do with it. A vigilant U.S. Customs Inspector followed up on her suspicions and searched the trunk of a car trying to enter the US at the Canadian border. She expected to find drugs but, instead, found the makings of one or more big bombs.

Her name is Diana Dean and she deserves to have her name remembered and get credit for her good work.

This just isn't a matter of giving Ms. Dean her rightful credit. It also points to an important lesson going forward in the WoT. No number of principals meetings in Washington or action plans by Homeland Security will protect a single American. The rubber meets the road at the street level where alert LEOs and dedicated investigators do their job.

It is easy to forget that. Journalists, historians, analysts and planners have a tendency to over-emphasize the paper that gets generated, the options selected, and the secrets uncovered. But as John Keegan noted about intelligence in WWII--"ULTRA did not sink a single U-boat."

Or, as Col. Harry Summers pointed out, in the end every (military) strategic plan always comes down to a single soldier walking point.

I quoted Adm. Nimitz before on the question luck but it is relevant here as well.
Luck can be attributed to a well-conceived plan carried out by a well-trained and indoctrinated task group.
Luck isn't just fluke events..... good training and discipline at the front line can make a unit very lucky.

UPDATE: See Michelle Malkin's post on Dean here. One of her commenters mentions that Dean was not called to testify before the 9/11 Commission. That strikes me as a serious oversight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Rerun Season

Originally posted Thursday, May 27, 2004

What is al Qaeda?

Here is a good article on al Qaeda. The author argues that it " is less an organization than an ideology" and that bin Laden "functioned like a venture capital firm—providing funding, contacts, and expert advice to many different militant groups and individuals from all over the Islamic world."

A couple of thoughts/questions.

1. While it is true that the founder of al Qaeda was Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden murdered him in a dispute over the direction the group should take. Citing Azzam's vision of al Qaeda tells us little about the current operations and aims of the group.

2. It is comforting to think that the typical terrorist is too unsophisticated to build a dirty bomb or unleash WMDs. While it may be true that " alleged attempts by a British group to develop ricin poison, but for the apparent seriousness of the intent, could be dismissed as farcical," the same thing could have been said about the initial bombs of the New York terror cell and Timothy McVeigh as well as Atta's dreams of weaponized crop dusters. All three groups learned from their mistakes. In two of those cases, the learning was made possible by al Qaeda.

No, it is not a tightly controlled global network and bin Laden is not the Napoleonic mastermind behind all terrorist operations. But the extreme danger from al Qaeda grows from its organizational and operational capabilities. For a decade it has functioned as a highly effective combination of general staff and think tank for Islamic terrorists.

For instance, it gave the terrorists an institutional memory which prolonged the danger even after key players were imprisoned or killed. We see this with the 9-11 attacks. Ramzi Yousef conceived of the idea and worked out some of the details. Then he was arrested and jailed in a Supermax prison. But al Qaeda (especially Khalid Sheik Mohammad) was able to keep the plan alive and then recruit Atta. In addition, al Qaeda provided Atta with money and recruits to bring the attack off six years after Yousef's capture.

By transferring its knowledge to sympathetic local groups, al Qaeda enabled them to increase their capabilities faster and let them avoid trial and error methods than can draw police attention. (See how Yousef helped the first WTC bomb group). Modern law enforcement pits the collective experience of the police department against the individual learning curve of the criminal. Usually, this makes for short criminal careers. Al Qaeda shifted this balance with systematic training and planning for terrorists.

Even if we capture or kill bin Laden, this new model will remain a danger. On the other hand, the model has vulnerabilities beyond those of conventional terrorists. They need safe harbors, bases to train, compliant or non-functioning states to hide in and travel from. All of these vulnerabilities can be exploited by our law enforcement and military forces.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Rerun season

Originally posted Saturday, April 24, 2004

Doctrine and Fad Surfing

I've lost count of the number of "change efforts" i've been involved with, participated in, and been subject to in the course of my corporate career. Most of them failed to yield the results they promised. Truth be told, some were actually harmful.

This experience is common, maybe even typical. Books have been written about the propensity of corporations to to seize on the idea du jour.

When i read the Marine Corps FMFM-1 "Warfighting" i was struck by the difference between the Marine Corps approach to instilling a common doctrine and the usual methods inside of corporations.

From FMFM-1:
Doctrine is a teaching advanced as the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war, from its nature and theory to its preparation and conduct Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about war and a way of fighting, a philosophy for leading Marines in combat, a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. In short, it establishes the way we practice our profession. In this manner, doctrine provides the basis for harmonious actions and mutual understanding.

Marine Corps doctrine is made official by the Commandant and is established in this manual. Our doctrine does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative, doctrine is not prescriptive.
The majority of corporate initiatives are just the opposite: they are prescriptive without being authoritative. They often demand that detailed templates be followed yet they end up being compartmentalized. Processes will be mapped and reengineered but the results don't translate into changes in the expense budget; managers will focus on delighting the customer in Wednesday's workshop then figure out ways to cut quality on Thursday because they are facing an earnings shortfall. Instead of a holistic approach to strategy, the firm ends up schizophrenic.

A broader problem is that the corporate method suggests that business success is simple and that there is a magic bullet-- reengineering, TQM, an ERP system-- that will make success easy and inevitable. In contrast, the Marines say war is complex and ever-changing. Not only are there no simple answers, even the questions keep shifting. The only way to succeed is for officers to study their profession for their whole lives.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Ace has a few questions

about those snarkfests on cable. Here's a good one:
2) Why are none of them funny?

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 17, 2004

"A Lobbyist's Progress"

A very long, very good article on the bi-partisan lobbyist culture of D. C.

Ferguson covers the ins and outs of money, access, and manipulation very thoroughly. But he misses another aspect of lobbyist culture: its influence on journalism.
By law anyone who spends at least 20 percent of his billable hours meeting with government officials on behalf of a client is a lobbyist. (Hence the wry Washington axiom: A lobbyist spends 20 percent of his time lobbying the government, 80 percent lobbying his client.) Lobbyists must publicly disclose their clients and fees. Abramoff is a lobbyist.

But Scanlon is not. He is a "political consultant," a "public affairs strategist," a "media relations specialist"--in Washington these phony-baloney job titles are interchangeable. As such he doesn't have to disclose his fees and clients. By directing Abramoff's clients to hire Scanlon, who then charged them enormous fees, the two men could make as much money as possible without having to disclose anything
Watch the cable news channels and you will see a stream of talking heads identified as GOP strategists or Democratic consultants. They are rarely full-time employees of the national parties or important leaders in key states. They are, instead, quasi-lobbyists with undisclosed financial stakes in the subject at hand. These "phone-baloney" activist/strategists also provide truckloads of quotes (often anonymously) for the insider stories that fill the Times and Post.
Blogs and brands

Justin Katz:
That's not a small consideration. No longer is "good press" an adequate term to escribe the imaging work that is necessary in that area. To put it in paper-world terms, imagine if every catalogue had to have every criticism of each product appended, and imagine if those bits of criticism were ranked according to the number of average folk who thought particular items worth considering.

Tupac and the nativity scene

Joe Carter makes a good point:
The same secularists who think that playing Grand Theft Auto:Vice City while listening to gansta rap has no affect on children act as if hearing “Merry Christmas” will turn little Johnny into a Pat Robertson clone.
He is also ambivalent about the battle to keep Christian symbols as part of the holiday observance. I share that ambivalence. I think we would be better off if Christmas became a purely Christian holiday that occurs at the same time as the (secular) Winter Festival of Getting and Spending. What's the point of providing a fig leaf (a creche, a cross, singing "O Come All Ye Faithful") for a celebration rife with greed, envy, and selfishness?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I just wish he wouldn't sugar-coat it

Had Mrs. Woolf survived to our time, however, she would at least have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind—shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal—had triumphed among the elites of the Western world.

The Rage of Virginia Woolf by Theodore Dalrymple

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

This is interesting

From The Weekly Standard:
Among well-known liberal senators, John Kerry had an adjusted ADA rating of 88, close to Ted Kennedy's 89. On the conservative side, Bill Frist had 10, whereas John McCain had 13. Results closer to the center were Joe Lieberman's 74, John Breaux's 60, Arlen Specter's 51, and Olympia Snowe's 43.
So Specter is too liberal for the kids in the Corner even though he has an ADA rating of 51. Joe Lieberman is close to Ted Kennedy and is objectively more liberal than Specter. Yet NRO covers him with slobbery kisses.

Down from the peak

After the big victories over new England and Philly, the Steelers have just done enough to win. The defense is still good but not dominating. The offense has been anemic (10 points against the Bengals). The coaching has been so clever they outsmart themselves.

This last one is particularly galling. At least six times in the last three games the Steelers have been taken out of field goal range by sacks. Running the ball might not have gotten first downs, but it would have left them in position to kick for three.

Against the Patriots and Eagles, Pittsburgh ran even when the defense knew they were going to do so. The Steelers ate up the clock and moved the chains. Now, the coaches seem afraid to put the game in the hands of the o-line and Stacey/Bettis.

Right now they let teams hang close which puts pressure on the defense.

Playing like we are, we will have trouble against Indy or New England. This week’s game with the Jets could be an ugly surprise.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition of the best econo-blogging is here.

Friday, December 03, 2004

"Obstacles to military-media relations"

Rev. Donald Sensing posts on an important topic that doesn't get the attention it deserves.

See also:

Exactly right

Journalists and criticism
Riddle me this

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a better record than the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers's defense is better than the Ravens's. James Farrior is having a better year than Ray Lewis. Farrior has made more big plays-4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions including one returned for a touchdown. Lewis has 1 sack, 0 interceptions, and 0 forced fumbles (ZERO!)

So why do the TV talking heads keep referring to Lewis as the best inside linebacker in the NFL? Why is ESPN functioning as his personal PR firm?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The always interesting Steve Sailer

writes about The Decline and Fall of the American Teenybopper

UPDATE: I am the reader who emailed this to Sailer:

My personal theory about the decline of rock-- record company profits are not perfectly correlated with record sales. If a group becomes too popular (say Led Zepplin circa 1976) they can get a better deal for themselves and reduce the margins of the companies. Ergo, record companies pursue a series of disposable acts rather than nurture those of the highest quality. (Nothing wrong with it, just smart business.) Disco, boy bands, and rap are producer driven and hence ideal forms for the record execs. The Clash, Stones, and Grateful Dead are bad investments.

And on the decline of the sitcom in favor of "reality" shows:

Wouldn't the economics also explain why cable loves criminal trials? Pretty cheap TV to put four lawyers in a studio talking about Scott Peterson.

Blogs and Brands

Pete Blackshaw of Intelliseek has a letter in the 22 November 2004 Ad Age that discusses the impact of blogs on conventional branding:
Far beyond their role in various forms of journalism, blogs are empowering real consumers to offer real-time narratives about issues and themes that touch their lives-narratives often grounded in real, meaningful experiences with branded products and services. Consider the tens of thousands of blog entries on LiveJournal by women and teens talking about buying their first car. Did somebody say "who needs a focus group?"

And deep consumer insights are just the beginning. The 'archiving' of consumer opinion on blogs is having a major, unmistakable 'advertising effect', and most marketers and PR professionals are dangerously oblivious to it. Blogs represent one of the fastest-growing sources of indexed content on search engines-a growing percentage of which now includes high-impact 'reason to believe' photos, video and audio.

See also

Another butler throws a hissy fit

Nothing to see, just move along

MSM pilot fish strike back