The American model of mass media is laden with an abundance of notorious flaws. One of the most pernicious is the clubby environment that embraces the fraternity of professional opiners. Amongst the benefits of membership in the PEP Squad (Perpetually Erroneous Pundits) is that, no matter how much you screw up, you never lose your seat at the table. Commentators who have been wrong for a half dozen years or more, are consistently invited back to deliver more of their bad advice. The problem is that, when your job is to influence public opinion and policy, the consequences of being wrong can be tragic.
For example, there is a dust-up in the bloggerhood that has pit the NRO‘s Jonah Goldberg against Juan Cole. It seems that a couple of years ago, Goldberg challenged Cole’s analysis of the travesty in Iraq saying:
“I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn’t want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let’s make a bet. I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it.”
That was two years ago and Goldberg’s predictions are so far off the mark that even he can’t deny it:
“I’ve admitted that Cole would have won. I’ve written that the Iraq War was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about the war and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”
Goldberg has admitted that he was wrong, but stubbornly insists that he has nothing for which to apologize. Nothing. Not for cheering on the martinets of war. Not for justifying the hostilities of a dishonest administration. Not for misleading his audience with discredited drivel. Not for the misery that has befallen the countless victims of his ignorance. But at least he is able to find comfort in joining “a long list of people” who were as dreadfully wrong as was he. He may also be comforted by his membership in the PEP Squad, knowing that his mistakes will cost him nothing.
The real danger emerges when PEP Squaders are allowed to continue peddling their distortions with impunity. The absence of accountability turns the notion of merit on its head. Thus we have Pulitzer winners like Robert Scheer being thrown over for hacks like Goldberg.
In his latest display of hackery, Goldberg argues that global warming is an equitable trade for economic gains. In fact he calls it “an amazing bargain:”
“The Earth got about 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer in the 20th century while it increased its GDP by 1,800%, by one estimate. […] Given the option of getting another 1,800% richer in exchange for another 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer, I’d take the heat in a heartbeat.”
Unfortunately, if he wins that bet, 100 million other hearts might have to stop beating. That’s the estimate of the population that would be impacted by rising sea levels if the Earth’s temperature were to rise in the amounts he proposes. By making irresponsible claims without the support of science, Goldberg is again substituting his imagination for the wise council of experts. He is engaging in a wager that, should he lose, will result in massive human suffering on a global scale. But look at the bright side. It probably won’t affect him or anyone he cares about, and Jonah and his pals will probably be a little richer. So it hardly matters whether he is right or wrong. We’ve seen how he behaves when he loses a bet; when he’s looking back on his fatally poor judgement. I can almost hear it now:
“I’ve admitted that Gore would have won. I’ve written that global warming was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about climate change and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”
Thanks Jonah. That makes everything better. The truth is, things won’t actually get any better until the media casts out the Perpetually Erroneous Pundits that are littering the TV and newspapers; until they start to reward superior analysis and intellect; until those who correctly predicted the sad outcome of Bush’s misadventures in Iraq replace the PEP Squad losers who got it so terribly wrong. By rewarding the PEP Squad for their failures, we can be virtually assured that they will continue to saddle the world with their toxic misperceptions. I’m not sure the world can stand it much longer.