Details are for the little people

A comment from Zifnab got me thinking:

I think everyone has basically hit all the numbers on this. Of course, we’re well-established and peer-reviewed blog commenters while Roger Simon is a journalist for a small time political rag at the ass-end of the beltway, so its understandable that we would catch things that he could so easily miss.

Why is it that so much of what passes for high-brow, insightful political analysis lacks the factual accuracy of drunken 3 am blog posts? Simon’s hardly the worst example — Richard “teh algebra” Cohen and MoDo are perhaps the most egregious offenders. This exchange (which many of you have probably seen before) sums up MoDo’s ethos quite well:

“Maureen is very talented,” observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. “But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties…I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, ‘Maureen, why don’t you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?’ And she said, ‘You mean I should write about welfare reform?'”

The idea seems to be that people like Maureen Dowd and Richard Cohen have some special thing, some je ne sais quoi, that is far more important than the ability to fact check, or research issues, or understand basic math.

It’s probably no coincidence, then that we now have a president who no one would claim was all that smart or hard-working, but who (his supporters and more than one journalist claimed) had a magical ability to produce “swift, gut-based solutions to problems“. Sometimes we were told he learned this in business school, other times that it was part of his DNA.

Clearly, there are people with some rare, hard-to-quantify ability, not obviously linked with technical knowledge, that translates into undeniable brilliant success. Steve Jobs is one example. And I know that John believes that Taylor Hicks is another. But it seems more likely that most of this is because getting the details right is hard work that we’ve been led to believe is better left in the hands of minimum wage peons than cluttering up the important time of millionaire geniuses like John Snow and Cokie Robert and Bono.

Is it really such a good idea to put so much authority in the hands of “brilliant” know-nothings? Are the Chinese doing this, too? Because if they’re not, I think it’s time to start learning mandarin.

Update: I give Bob Woodward credit for including this in his “10 Take Aways From the Bush Years” column, even if it seems obvious:

3. A president must do the homework to master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind his policies.






58 replies
  1. 1
    Joshua Norton says:

    produce “swift, gut-based solutions to problems“

    Yes, but so doesn’t a rattlesnake, a howler monkey and a Kamikaze pilot. Doesn’t really do the people around them a lot of good.

  2. 2
    DougJ says:

    Yes, but so doesn’t a rattlesnake, a howler monkey and a Kamikaze pilot.

    Better one of them to lead us then a windsurfing stuffed shirt who eats arugula.

  3. 3
    scott says:

    I thought he was more of a sanjaya man.

  4. 4
    Fwiffo says:

    …Taylor Hicks…

    I somehow first read that as Taylor Hanson.

  5. 5
    gex says:

    What you fail to realize is that these folks always wear socks with their shoes. That alone tells you they are well suited to play such an important role in our republic.

  6. 6
    DougJ says:

    @Fwiffo

    Honestly, I don’t know why John loves the guy so much.

  7. 7
    gex says:

    I am amused and delighted to play the "what got my innocuous two line comment" placed into moderation. This is fun!

    (Note: meaning to complain either, John. I am truly curious as to what the filter keyed off of, being a computer science type…)

  8. 8
    gbear says:

    One of Obama’s strengths has been his grasp on current events and details. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the loss of his blackberry. It must make him crazy to have his most accessible research tool taken away just as he’s taking the most important job he’ll ever have.

    Hey, and Cokie Roberts knows a luxurious vacation when she sees it…

  9. 9
    Fwiffo says:

    I’d never even heard of him. I’m heating up a fireplace poker to burn out whatever part of my subconscious came up with Hanson.

  10. 10
    DougJ says:

    It must make him crazy to have his most accessible research tool taken away just as he’s taking the most important job he’ll ever have.

    I agree.

    I probably should have added to this post that it’s probably not surprising that the media wasn’t fazed by the fact that McCain hasn’t used teh google.

  11. 11
    robertdsc says:

    If I were a politician or someone in the media, I would be worried to death about getting things right when they go out under my name. Why these people aren’t like that is mystifying.

  12. 12

    You forgot William "I fucked up my first two NYT op/ed pieces" Kristol. But facts are dicey little fuckers that seem to escape the "conservative" mind from time to time. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Everybody makes mistakes but when you make a career out of it and are essentially wrong about EVERYTHING, you should probably have your pundit card pulled.

  13. 13
    Andre says:

    Wait, Jon Snow? Why the snark about a dude with a big sword who wears black all the time? Is it because he’s a bastard?

  14. 14

    @DougJ: To be fair, there are ways that the PEOTUS could retain either his Blackberry or a similar device with equal or better function, and it would certainly be worth the government providing the service.

    But you knew that, and were just trolling us, right?

  15. 15
    gbear says:

    @DougJ:

    ..or that Joe Lieberman didn’t know what a .PDF was until yesterday.

  16. 16
    Perry Como says:

    That Cohen article is satire, right?

  17. 17
    DougJ says:

    To be fair, there are ways that the PEOTUS could retain either his Blackberry or a similar device with equal or better function, and it would certainly be worth the government providing the service

    Are there? I didn’t know that. I thought they were really cutting him off a bit.

  18. 18
    gbear says:

    @demimondian:

    But you knew that, and were just trolling us, right?

    I made that original comment, not DougJ, and I wasn’t intentionally trolling. Shall I consider myself dumb?

  19. 19
    robertdsc says:

    Wait, Jon Snow? Why the snark about a dude with a big sword who wears black all the time? Is it because he’s a bastard?

    I would say Winter is HERE, bitches!

  20. 20

    @DougJ: Sure.

    The problem with using a Blackberry lies in the document retention issue for electronic mail and/or IM. Microsoft (though some of its Live Mail services) and Google (through Google Apps for your Domain) both provide services which allow users of suitable devices (WM, iPhone, etc.) to comply with arbitrary document retention rules while still retaining the portable devices.

    It’s not like there aren’t other people in the world who are under document retention, you know — hell, I spent a couple years under retention myself while my employer was buying a large company close to my area of effort.

  21. 21

    @gbear: Dumb? No. Incurious about a technical issue which is being painted one way, and isn’t necessarily as it appears? Well, I’ll leave that to you to decide for yourself.

  22. 22
    DougJ says:

    Thanks for the explanation, demi. That was something that truly puzzled me, why he couldn’t keep his blackberry.

  23. 23
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    I dunno. My Blackberry mailbox is tied to an Exchange account that acts just like any other Exchange account. All the email goes through that account. One hundred percent. And that mail is subject to — and operationally controlled by — the same rules and rule implementations as any other mail that goes through that mailbox.

    IM is a separate app that can be removed from the device or disabled. Same with a browser, or Google, or any other app that can be dropped on the Blackberry desktop.

    I don’t really see what the big deal is with the Blackberry.

    It’s just another mobile device. Does this mean that a president, or his people, cannot use … laptops, netbooks, celphones, handheld PDA or handheld computers?

    There is something about this that makes no sense. Even if there is some twisted rule interpretation that makes it a problem … why not just change the rule to make it work? What’s the big problem?

  24. 24
    DougJ says:

    ..or that Joe Lieberman didn’t know what a .PDF was until yesterday.

    Really? Do you have a link?

  25. 25
    DougJ says:

    Speaking of, this was funny:

    The popular search engine Google announced plans Friday to launch a new site, TheGoogle.com, to appeal to older adults not able to navigate the original website’s single text field and two clearly marked buttons….”All you have to do to turn the website on is put the little blinking line thing in the cyberspace window at the top of the screen, type ‘thegoogle.com,’ and press ‘return’—although it will also recognize http.wwwthegoogle.com, google.aol, and ‘THEGOOGLE’ typed into a Word document.”

  26. 26

    @TheHatOnMyCat: Sigh.

    Let’s just say that in a previous life, I dealt with the vendor side of the White House email system. At the time, they were still trying to complete their transition to Exchange, in order to actually be able to support proper archiving. (No, the problem wasn’t with Exchange. For some reason, the folks at the WHOPOTUS didn’t seem terribly…motivated…to complete the transition.)

    There’s absolutely no reason that the WH can’t use a BES-to-Exchange connection to provide fully audited email. However, as you may remember, there have been some issues with the current occupants compliance with document retention regulations.

  27. 27
    Joshua Norton says:

    the media wasn’t fazed by the fact that McCain hasn’t used teh google.

    Them computin’ machines have something to do with spaceships don’t they?

  28. 28

    BTW Twitter came through on that plane crash landing in the Hudson River a couple hours ago. Pilot did one hell of a job and everyone survived. Thankfully.

  29. 29
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    So, demi, the problem is with the people and the administration of the thing, right? Not the technology?

    So why not just develop rules that work, and provide some kind of auditing to establish compliance? That’s what we do with things like feduciary bank accounts that have millions of dollars of other peoples’ money in them … why would this model not work for document management?

    Im getting the idea that we are treating the White House as a black hole of perfidy and malfeasance …. which it has been for a while, but doesn’t have to be in the future, eh?

  30. 30
    Joshua Norton says:

    in the cyberspace window

    Sorry, you just lost them.

  31. 31
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    Winning "American Idol" has translated into "undeniable brilliant success" for exactly two contestants, neither of which was Taylor Hicks.

  32. 32
    Punchy says:

    who the hell is taylor hicks?

  33. 33
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @Punchy: Prolly a racist.

  34. 34
    CT says:

    The rise of the blogosphere has had one great democratizing impact on how people view media-the realization that just because someone is on TV, or has a newspaper column, doesn’t mean they are any more insightful than your average internet commenter. And the internet commenter at least has the advantage of being constantly challenged and forced to defend their opinions. Go check our the John King/Glen Greenwald dustup that someone linked to earlier today. King was utterly unable to defend himself against the mildest accusations of pro-McCain bias. His whole defense was basically-"Hey, do you know who I am, man? I’m John motherf’ing King, dammit!!"

  35. 35
    El Cid says:

    DougJ: As an amusing learning exercise, go peer back in the archives of the opinion / editorial columns of the New York Times or Washington Post or Time or Newsweek from the 1950s or 1960s to see how easily they avoided the reporting from their own publication’s pages in order to embrace their desired conventional wisdom.

    I.e., if their own reporters on the scene somewhere clearly emphasized that some third world battle appeared to entirely be local, and no significant Communist involvement, the editors and commentators would still rage on about how the damn Communists had been leading the battles in that same place.

    They don’t care. As long as they churn out the ideologically oriented claptrap they think their position entitles them too, f*** the facts, f*** their own reporting — unless, like in the case of Judith Miller, someone’s actively acting a propaganda hack in favor of the editorial board’s ideological outlook.

  36. 36
    JL says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: The pilot has been flying for 29 years and according to Bloomberg, walked the plane twice to make sure that every one was off.

  37. 37

    @TheHatOnMyCat: In a word, yes. It was a very frustrating time for us; the White House is obviously an account which any vendor would be honored to have.

  38. 38

    Wait, Jon Snow? Why the snark about a dude with a big sword who wears black all the time? Is it because he’s a bastard?

    Because the next fucking book isn’t out yet, two years after the last fucking book was published, even though the next fucking book was already three-quarters fucking written already.

    All because Martin insists on publishing more fucking Wild Cards crap.

  39. 39
    Neal Deesit says:

    I’m guessing Harvard Business School wasn’t where Commander Codpiece honed his "mad skillz." Yoshi Tsurumi, one of George W. Bush’s professors there, remembers him in a Salon article:

    "He showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him." When asked to explain a particular comment, said Tsurumi, Bush would respond, "Oh, I never said that"….

    "In class, he couldn’t challenge [students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class]. But after class, he sometimes came up to me in the hallway and started bad-mouthing those students who had challenged him. He would complain that someone was drinking too much. It was innuendo and lies. So that’s how I knew, behind his smile and his smirk, that he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy."

  40. 40
    former capitalist says:

    It’s -20 outside, without factoring in the wind. I’m looking out the window at a couple of guys trying to start some poor lady’s car. They look like ice statues. So, here’s my point: people like MODO make me gag. The beltway crowd and MSM (save Rachel) haven’t a clue about life as it’s lived by 99% of the folks in this country. If they had to start a car on a day like this, they’d freeze to death, but they’d look down their starched collars at the poor schmucks doing the dirty work. My dad used to say "when shit runs on the floor, call a plumber".

  41. 41

    That Richard Cohen column was painful to read. I’ve always thought that Cohen was an ignorant cretin and that column proves that not only is he ignorant, but that he’s proud of being ignorant. If the coming death of newspapers means that hacks like Cohen and the egregious MoDo will lose their jobs and be forced to live in dumpsters behind fast food joints giving blowjobs for spare change so they can afford their six bottle a day Night Train habit then it can’t come quickly enough for me.

  42. 42
    Rommie says:

    Isn’t one of the perks to being "the most powerful person in the world" the ability to keep one’s mobile device if one wishes?

    POTUS: I’m keeping the Blackberry. Make it work here.

    Underling: But sir, there’s all these documentation rules and…

    POTUS: I’M KEEPING THE BLACKBERRY.

    Underlings in unison: Yes Sir!

  43. 43
    Blue Raven says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    Winning "American Idol" has translated into "undeniable brilliant success" for exactly two contestants, neither of which was Taylor Hicks.

    I keep forgetting Carrie Underwood won. You said that, and I only remembered Kelly Clarkson. And the blissful irony of AI is that some of the also-rans have had better career arcs than most of the winners. Jennifer Hudson got the boot before reaching the top three, as did Chris Daughtry. Clay Aiken came in second. Those last three names are far more likely to be visible in ten years than Ruben Studdard or Fantasia Barrino.

  44. 44
    JL says:

    @Wile E. Quixote: It would not bother me at all if newspapers laid off their editorial writers.

  45. 45
    dobrojutro says:

    Barry’s bberry issue may be security-related rather than doc-retention issue. Perhaps tech-savvy wilkes-booth could figure out which bberry belongs to potus by virtue of tracking movements.

    No? Too Die Hard? Maybe he is a brickbreaker addict.

  46. 46
    phobos says:

    I think it’s time to start learning mandarin

    I would consider that a fairly sound career move these days.

  47. 47
    Zifnab says:

    Damn, I take a few hours off to actually get some office work done and I’m front-paged in the back. :-p

    Is it really such a good idea to put so much authority in the hands of “brilliant” know-nothings? Are the Chinese doing this, too? Because if they’re not, I think it’s time to start learning mandarin.

    Take a look at how the Chinese roll. Head guys walk in, look at a problem, and throw the biggest wrench at it they can find – see: The Great Firewall of China, the Three Gorges Dam, various political and cultural reformations dating back to "The Great Leap Forward". They don’t really stop to ask if the solution will work, on the assumption that if its big enough, its gotta work. And then it doesn’t, but all the Chinese higher-ups just tell everyone that it does and throw dissenters in jail if they say otherwise.

    A while back, it was kinda a joke that if the Republicans ever did manage a one-party lock on the US Government, we’d start looking more and more like the eastern hemisphere’s most populated communist country. So I wouldn’t move to China if I were you.

  48. 48
    DougJ says:

    Take a look at how the Chinese roll. Head guys walk in, look at a problem, and throw the biggest wrench at it they can find – see: The Great Firewall of China, the Three Gorges Dam, various political and cultural reformations dating back to "The Great Leap Forward". They don’t really stop to ask if the solution will work, on the assumption that if its big enough, its gotta work. And then it doesn’t, but all the Chinese higher-ups just tell everyone that it does and throw dissenters in jail if they say otherwise.

    So they’re not so different from us.

  49. 49
    TenguPhule says:

    So they’re not so different from us.

    When their corrupt politicos are caught redhanded, they shoot the bastards.

  50. 50

    @Rommie: Yes, and I’m sure that there are plenty of happy people at my former place of employment working very hard, hand in hand with equally happy people at RIM HQ, to make BHO equally happy.

    It’s a time issue, now.

  51. 51
    John O says:

    Doug, Doug, Doug,

    I just watched a TON of "experts" tell me what the pilot of Flight 1549 went through, even emotionally!

    How could you begin to question the wisdom?

    It’s the same process that lets me know exactly what a woman goes through during childbirth. Trust me.

  52. 52
    Comrade Darkness says:

    @Rommie,
    ah, yes, of course, the documentation requirements are in force again because there’s a democrat in the office.

  53. 53

    Funny how several of those are also true if you replace ‘the President’ with ‘the press.’

    5. The press needs to foster a culture of skepticism and doubt.

    We could have used a lot more of that over the past eight years, especially during 2002, but also during debates over torture, wiretapping, habeas corpus, and the bailout.

    You’d think that would be one of their core competencies, but we’ve learned the hard way about that.

    6. The press gets contradictory data, and they need a rigorous way to sort it out.

    "He said, she said" just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    10. The press should embrace transparency.

    You’d think that would be a natural for them, but how many pundits didn’t want the facts of the Scooter Libby case to come to light? How many, right now, think we shouldn’t bother to investigate those who tortured, and those who gave the authorizations? How many papers aren’t fighting particularly hard to find out what’s happened with the first tranche of the TARP money, or who the Fed’s been bailing out, to the tune of how much?

    3. The press must do the homework to master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind Administration policies, and policy proposals on both sides.

    It’s the press’ job to make sense of actual issues, policies, and policy proposals so that the rest of us can understand them. If that requires some work on their part so that they understand them, they’d better get down to it.

    People may want to know what’s going on with J-Lo, but they also want to know what’s going on with their government. It’s time for the press to stop pretending that they simply don’t want to bore people with details that nobody cares about, admit that they didn’t want to do their homework – and then do their freakin’ homework. And then explain it to us.

    2. The press must insist that everyone speak out loud in front of the others, even — or especially — when there are vehement disagreements.

    No more background "senior administration official" briefings where the entire Village knows who the SAO was, but the public’s left in the dark. If a SAO is simply feeding you what the President wants you to hear, make him do so openly, and be responsible for his words, out loud in front of all of us.

    I could keep going, but you get the idea.

    Oh, and it’s a bit late for Woodward to finally realize that the Bush way wasn’t a particularly good way. The time for him to learn these lessons was six years ago. Too little, too late, Bob. Get your aristocratic ass out of town, why don’t’cha.

  54. 54
    Comrade grumpy realist says:

    Totally OT, but for those of you who want to learn Chinese characters, Heisig has finally come out with the Chinese version of his mnemonics for characters. Google "Remembering Hanzi".

    (I used Heisig’s training methods for Japanese characters and learned over 2000 in six months in my spare time, so I’m pretty excited. Will give a report later.)

  55. 55
    Cain says:

    @demimondian:

    The problem with using a Blackberry lies in the document retention issue for electronic mail and/or IM. Microsoft (though some of its Live Mail services) and

    Surely though, we can keep up with modern times and be able to do this retention? It seems that there should at least be some investment by govt to be able to do that. I mean, jeez maybe there should be an ‘M’ for Obama. :-)

    cain

  56. 56
    MNPundit says:

    The interesting thing is the changes in Klein since he started blogging. It was hell for the first little while and then he began to actually look around. He’ll never be a Kossack for example but he is definitely writing with a more critical eye since he started that.

    The point is interaction with the internet, meaning people can easily challenge your ideas with facts (via links) makes you a better journalist.

  57. 57
    DougJ says:

    @MNPundit

    I agree with you about Klein — he’s gotten much, much better. I personally take his opinion pretty seriously now and I can’t say about many other columnists besides Krugman. I also like that he shows Ezra Klein so much respect. It’s warranted, but not many other pundits ever show anyone intertron-related the slightest bit of respect.

  58. 58
    Svetlana says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    Don’t be so quick to count Mr. Hicks out. The rocket ride to pop "stardumb" was never part of his plan. I do truly believe he’s quite the sly silver fox, and he will surprise us all one day with his success and longevity.

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