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Outlook Sausage

As noted yesterday, the New Guy at wants me to blog about the upcoming Outlook section. I can't imagine that this is a good idea. Let us say, hypothetically, just as a kind of rambunctious mental experiment, that I tell you that in Sunday's Outlook section we're going to have an article about the Supreme Court. Someone at The New York Times could read my blog item and then race across the newsroom, panting and wheezing, toThe Week In Review department, and then those folks could rip up their section and produce their own Supreme Court article. Which might be better than ours! All because I got yappy on the blog. [Remember, this is completely hypothetical, this Supreme Court thing. Draw no conclusions.]

So I fear the blowback on this. Also I worry that readers will be dismayed if they discover the haphazard, dangerously small-d democratic nature of our business. Readers prefer to believe that a news media organization is rigidly hierarchical and essentially monolithic, a place in which senior executives give orders to underlings, and the senior executives themselves answer to even more senior executives who work on the top floor of the building, and those folks, in turn, are passing along orders from advertisers and stockholders and Wall Street hedge funds and the Bush White House and so on. Serenity comes from simplification of the world. There is cause and there is effect. But in fact that's not how newspapers work: They're chaotic collaborations, with a lot of bottom-up decision-making, much spontaneity and serendipity and so on. But should I let that cat out of the bag?

Also I should note that I am not really privy to the inner operations at Outlook even though that's my current posting. (I still sit downstairs in the Style section. I haven't worked for Style for years but somehow am tolerated, at least for the moment, though undoubtedly the clock is ticking on that.) When I walk into Outlook I'm conscious of being an intruder. [Sort of how I feel on planet Earth.]

Anyway, I am going to mention a few things that might, possibly, be in Outlook Sunday, though we're still putting the section together and Pomfret is still working the phones and pounding his keyboard and frankly he strikes me as a little unpredictable.

There's a piece on Bush that talks about which leader from history he most resembles (my suggestion, Genghis Khan, was ignored). The piece is by Lynne Olson, author of "Troublesome Young Men." It's boffo!

And there's a piece on Iran that taught me a bunch of stuff I didn't know and seems to be saying that Iranians aren't exactly itching for a war with the U.S.

Couple politics pieces. Something about Nancy Drew. Something about "Sicko."

I have a piece on Doubt. Ron Suskind helped me a lot, by phone and email, but I am pained to report that in the editing process Suskind got axed. Thus as a reader service I am going to paste into this blog item a big fat chunk of the story that got removed on account of it being perhaps a bit redundant and tedious:

'I'd add a few items to the "critical thinking" list. Starting with, Beware the Argument From Authority. Anyone can be wrong about anything: Just because someone is a professor or an author or has a fancy credential does not make said person immune to error. Journalists in particular rely too heavily on the Argument from Authority, starting with the ritual incantation of "police said," on up through the chain of command to the anonymous "knowledge insiders."

'We should also beware the opposite of the Argument From Authority, which might be called the Disqualifier By Identity. That's when you assume someone is wrong even before you've heard the argument. You say: I've never liked that guy, so whatever he says must be the opposite of the truth.

'And more generally: It's probably not wise to start with a conclusion and then start working through your argument. Do it the other way around.

'It appears that the Bush Administration circa 2002 started with the conclusion "We must invade Iraq" and searched for evidence to support the decision. Doubters were considered disloyal to the boss. The journalist and author Ron Suskind, who has chronicled the travails of such Bush administration contrarians as Paul O'Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell, told me there's been a clear pattern in the Bush White House: "You are stamped as a doubter and then you're shown the door. There's no time for doubters in the new world of action."

'Whitman once told Suskind, ''In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!" Suskind's book "The One Percent Doctrine" shows how Dick Cheney argued that even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack had to be treated as the equivalent of a certainty. Doubt, in effect, was eliminated from the conversation -- not as a matter of reason, but as a matter of public policy.'


From yesterday's boodle, dyspeptic reaction to the Schemer's "get a gimmick" comment and the New Guy's agenda:

Curmudgeon: .... you already HAVE a gimmick: You've got the only oasis of civility and pleasant discourse (except when I'm on a rant) on the Internet.... Gimmicks. Jeez. Next thing ya know the Post will have a collection of Marc Fisher, Bob Woodward and Bart Gellman Bobbleheads. (Though I wouldn't object to a Dana Priest Action Figure, if you could get me one.)

Jennifer Ouellette: I think the New Guy is missing the whole point of a blog. It's not to plug the Outlook section. Your blog is exactly right in tone, mix of topics, etc. [Thanks! Yours, too.]

Raysmom: The New Guy may ask you to blog about your Outlook column, but how's he gonna make us stay on topic? Delete any garden references? Establish filters on phrases like "sky report?"


Boko999 writes, regarding my comparison of the C&O Canal to the Great Wall of China:

"Lemme see, Great Wall of China, Pyramids, Machu Pichu, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Rideau Canal. Nope, no C&O Canal. Look Joel, I'm sure your canal is very nice but until it acheives UN World Heritage status like The Great Wall of China or, say, the Rideau Canal here in Smith's Falls On. you shouldn't go throwing specious comparisons around. There's no need to over reach, nobody will think any less of your nice non- World Heritage status, tree denuded, canal thingy."

Dear Boko: Look at what I wrote. I am very precise in my choice of words. If what I wrote wasn't exactly true and bang-on and irrefutable I wouldn't have written it. I wrote, "One of the treasures of the Mid-Atlantic region is the C&O Canal...It's our local Great Wall of China." Notice the implicit modesty emanating from the word "local." Notice that I specify that it is a treasure of the inherently modest "Mid-Atlantic region." It's exactly the same as when I say something like, "My tomato patch in the backyard is my personal Hanging Gardens of Babylon," or when I say, "My back porch is my personal Temple of Artemis at Ephesus."

Once again a close analysis shows that I'm right on this.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 29, 2007; 10:47 AM ET
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Next: Give Doubt a Chance [With Reaction]

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