Useless Inside Information

Judith MillerIn the lead up to the Iraq War, I was working at home and listening to a lot of NPR. At that time, I wasn’t really a partisan. This was the period where I was transitioning from libertarian to what I am now. (Anarcho-syndicalist?) But it was a very frustrating time because it was obvious that the Bush administration was pushing us into war for no particular reason. And this came out of my listening to NPR, which was fairly pro-war.

This is part of a broader frustration I have that things that seem obvious to me are quite surprising to our cultural elites. The dot-com bubble? The stock market bubble? These were things that were obvious, even if you weren’t paying much attention. They were, however, unbelievable if you were an insider—a Power Player.

This morning Paul Krugman wrote an article about Jonathan Martin’s stupid comment that liberals would be disheartened to learn that Nate Silver’s model was mostly based upon polls, Scoop Dupes. Only someone who doesn’t follow Nate Silver would think that would surprise anyone. But Krugman makes the argument that the reason there is so much push back against Silver by political journalists is that Silver’s work makes the work of journalists much less important. What separates a journalist from, say, me is that they have contacts; they can get the inside scoop from the campaigns. But more and more, this kind of information is shown to be useless—especially compared to people like Nate Silver or even Real Clear Politics.

But Krugman goes further and said something that made me feel better about my experiences and ought to make bloggers the world over feel better about the work that they do:

[I]t has even been true for national security. Reporters with top-level access got completely snookered by the lies about Iraq, while many ordinary concerned citizens, looking at what we actually seemed to know, figured out early on that the Bush administration was cooking up a false case for war.


Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for muckraking. But this kind of work is so rare that when it happens, they make big budget films about it that star Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. And note: you don’t expose corruption in the White House by talking to the president and his chief of staff. One of the reasons that Woodward and Bernstein were able to do so much work was that they were young and not that plugged in. By far their most prominent source was Mark Felt (Deep Throat), and they only had him because they were using (typically) a disgruntled employee.

To some extent, Krugman is only saying exactly what I want to hear. All I have to offer as a writer is the vast amount of information that I consume and my relatively efficient but slightly skewed brain. But I’m not at all convinced this isn’t better than listening to the newest Judith Millers at America’s elite newspapers.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Useless Inside Information

  1. Hey Frank, there’s some useful inside information on [i]you[/i] here. When I first started reading H.H., I was struggling with cravings; I was not helped by the glibertarian noises you sometimes seemed to make there. Still, it was conforting to know there were intelligent people with an intelligent attitude towards drug use as such.

    Years later, I found your blog, and you’re sounding like a liberal far-leftist (like me). So you’ve changed unseen to me. I’m not struggling with cravings anymore, but there seems to be a level of happiness I never again will attain.

    Thanks for your web publishing. On many things, you Frank have the real inside information.

    Christ, I sound like a fanboi. Sorry. I’ll send up some trolling later to compensate.

  2. @RJ – Thanks. Regarding the happiness, it [i]does[/i] come back, but it can take longer than seems reasonable. Exercise really does help. (Now if I could only take that advice!)

    On the libertarian stuff: my thinking has evolved. Of course, I was never that comfortable as a libertarian. And there are things I still value about that philosophy. But I think the best libertarians are hopelessly naive and too constrained by theory to make reasonable policy choices. (The worst libertarians are just closet fascists–this is most of them.) Also, I think it is really hard to be a libertarian today when individuals so clearly have more to worry about regarding corporations than the government. I could go on and on and on about this kind of stuff. So I’ll stop now. But if you’re interested, do a search here on "libertarian."

    Troll away! My best relationships (on and off line) start with people telling me I’m full of shit.

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