The Right Coast

March 08, 2005
The Journalism Bubble
By Mike Rappaport

In the Wall Street Journal today, Bret Stephens discusses several issues where journalists got it wrong recently.

The cliche is that journalism is the first draft of history. Yet a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades -- the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining American crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany -- would find most contemporary journalism useless. [Journalists missed these stories.]

The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight. . . The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts from insignificant ones.

As for the media, it shouldn't be too difficult to do better. Look for countervailing data. Broaden your list of sources. Beware of exoticizing your subject.
This sounds great, but the problem is that when a large number of journalists all believe one thing, a journalist who asserts the opposite will be criticized. He may ultimately be vindicated, but that may be many years down the road. It is much like a stock market bubble. Some people knew that the internet stocks were overvalued in the late 1990s, but they did not sell, because they knew stock prices would remain high for a while, and they would look stupid and unsuccessful. There was little benefit to being too far ahead of others.