Newsweek's Evan Thomas visited Germany recently, and came away thinking the United States is headed for some serious trouble. The country is falling apart–polarized, susceptible to populist demagoguery and so on. Forces on both sides are to blame;they're not all bad ("I think the Tea Partiers, despite their contradictions, are not all wrong about Big Government," he writes), but some should be singled out for criticism:
Cable-TV and talk-radio personalities and bloggers have risen up to speak for the people. But as they pander for clicks and ratings, their standards of factual accuracy are often low. This is not by any means just a right-wing phenomenon. As my friend Charles Krauthammer points out, it was an article of faith on the left that George W. Bush deliberately lied about WMD to get us into the Iraq War. Never mind a complete absence of evidence.
The idea that Bush never "lied" requires one to adhere to a weird definition of lying. By any reasonable standard, Bush made an array ofcharges about Iraq that were false;somehe should have known were false, since the administration was rejecting intelligence that did not conform to its desired conclusion. And the Downing Street memo revealed that the British thought the Bush administrationwas determined to go to war no matter what: "The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," as the memo put it.But that's not a lie, right?
Thomas thinks that what is needed is less of this Internet-fueled inaccuracy and moreold-fashioned, Evan Thomas-style journalism–though he worries it may be too late:
But the old and weary (and increasingly cowed) mainstream media, of which I have been a charter member for more than 30 years, may not be as successful as it used to be at exposing the sort of distortions that can fuel mindless rage. Whether those distortions come from the far right or far left, the consequences could be disastrous: a protectionist who sets out to shield workers from foreign competition and wrecks the free-trade regimen that has made America prosper; a law-and-order vigilante who comes to office after a terrorist attack with a program to suspend cherished individual liberties to keep America 'safeÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬Ãƒâ€šÂ; a soak-the-rich populist who kills economic growth in the name of helping the little guy.
Set aside for a minute the idea thata "protectionist" who critiques "free trade" agreements or a populist who raises taxes on the wealthy are disasters in the making (unless the media summon the power to stop such creeps). Let's talk about something already happened–like, say, the Iraq War. A reckless administration, determined to invade another country no matter what, cited false intelligence; surely old-fashioned reporters like Evan Thomas rose to stop this madness? Nope. They wrote things like this:
Saddam could decide to take Baghdad with him. One Arab intelligence officer interviewed by Newsweek spoke of "the green mushroom" over Baghdad–the modern-day caliph bidding a grotesque bio-chem farewell to the land of the living alongside thousands of his subjects as well as his enemies. Saddam wants to be remembered. He has the means and the demonic imagination. It is up to U.S. armed forces to stop him before he can achieve notoriety for all time.
Well, at least he's nota blogger accusing Bush of lying. That'd be really irresponsible.