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Last updated on March 6th, 2018 at 12:30 am
Bret Stephens on media myths:
The myth of Japan Inc took hold because there was so little Western reporting to suggest that not all was well with the Japanese economy. So, when Japan’s real-estate bubble burst and the economy flatlined for more than a decade, the world was caught unawares. The myth of an Iraqi quagmire took hold for similar reasons – the media was so busy telling the story of everything that was going wrong in Iraq that it broadly missed what was going right.
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 US crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany – would find most contemporary journalism useless. Perhaps a story here or there might, in retrospect, seem illuminating. But chances are it would have been nearly invisible at the time of publication.
The problem is not that journalists can’t get their facts straight – they can and usually do. Neither is it that the facts are obscure; often, the most essential facts are also the most obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts – facts with consequences – from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling.
Such as the story of Iraq’s elections.