Two unrelated news items in the past week hint at a developing challenge to rational policymaking: First, there were the confusing accounts of what happened in Basra, Iraq. And second, there was The New York Times story that CBS is considering buying CNN's newsgathering so it won't need to gather some news itself.
The almost complete guesswork of what happened in Basra, and why, was the result of a lack of reasonably reliable reporting. As The Weekly Standard impeccably described the problem in an article by Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan: "There has been much speculation about what happened in Basra itself: about possible deals between Maliki and Sadr, about the benefits Sadr or Maliki might have received from the encounter, and about Maliki's motivations. Because British forces have abandoned the city, there were few coalition forces present and very few Westerners at all. Most of the details of the operation publicized in the American press come from Iraqi stringers, the usual anonymous Iraqi officials, and, it seems, some Sadrist media outlets. Such information is of limited value. We simply do not yet know how well the ISF acquitted itself in the actual fighting, what if any areas were cleared, who was resisting, and so on."
Yet despite the absence of any objective knowledge about what had happened, pro- and anti-war news organizations, talk radio shows, columnists, pundits and blogists leapt into the void -- invincibly ignorant of what had happened -- and immediately began making powerful arguments in support of their pre-existing positions. In the middle of a vital presidential election season, millions of American voters got misinformed on perhaps the central issue of the election that is critical to our national safety (whether misinformed for or against the war, we don't know yet).
Hair-trigger-released propaganda untempered by even the existence of any objective facts that might be weighed in the balance is the epistemological culture in which presidential candidates, the media and voters are making their vital decisions.
This method of policy concluding is right out of "Alice in Wonderland":
"'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
"'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first -- verdict afterwards.'
"'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'
"'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.
"'I won't!' said Alice.
"'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice."
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.