Jul
30
2012

Pundit Accountability: What an Idea!

Writing in Newsweek, Peter Beinart has a pretty good idea:

America's foreign-policy debate desperately needs some measure of accountability. I'm not suggesting that politicians and pundits who got Iraq wrong be banished from public life. (This standard would leave me looking for other work.) But neither should they be able to flee the scene of the disaster. Imagine if every time Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or John Bolton or John McCain or William Kristol was interviewed about military intervention in Iran or Syria, the interviewer began by asking what they've learned about the subject from their experience supporting the war in Iraq. Simply asking the question would inject a much-needed humility into our foreign-policy discussion. Asking might also make viewers wonder why they so rarely hear from experts who did not support one of the greatest disasters in the history of American foreign policy.

Interestingly, a few pages away was Howard Kurtz's profile of John McCain, which recycled one of the most familiar McCain tropes of them all–the idea that McCain is especially wise on foreign policy:

McCain's greatest strength is as a leader on foreign affairs, Schmidt says, but that is the issue on which his differences with Romney may be the starkest. "He has not got a lot of instincts on some of these national security issues, but he has the right instincts," McCain says. Yet the candidate rarely brings up the muddled mess in Afghanistan; nor has he embraced McCain's call for U.S. airstrikes to support the rebels in Syria. "We all know it's not popular, including with the Ron Paul wing of our party," McCain admits.

The Schmidt Kurtz is referring to is former McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt. But clearly Kurtz thinks there's something to this, and he's not alone. As I wrote in Extra! Update (4/08),  this was the prevailing sentiment in the 2008 race:

The conventional wisdom is that McCain simply has a built-in advantage on military matters. As NBC anchor Brian Williams put it to the Democratic contenders at a February 26 debate, one of them would be running against "a Republican with vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security." The New York Times (3/5/08) similarly called McCain a "national security pro."

I think what reporters mean is that John McCain is quoted a lot by other reporters talking about military interventions, invasions, bombings and the like. That shouldn't be confused with expertise, though. In fact, as I recalled earlier today, McCain's record on Iraq was terrible–he predicted a quick victory, and then criticized others for predicting a quick victory. (What a maverick!) McCain consistently advocates for more violent and dangerous levels of American military attacks. And yet, somehow, this doesn't affect his standing with the corporate media.

Beinart's right, of course–in the sense that a minimal level of accountability should be part of any decent media system. But the treatment of people like John McCain tells us this will probably never happen.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.