The illusion of being informed
A couple of months ago, I was over at C-SPAN World Headquarters to do Book TV. As I was walking out, a producer told me about an idea they were kicking around: They'd have people take to C-SPAN radio and read the entire health-care bill out loud. They seemed excited about this, and asked what I thought. Well, I asked, were they going to have experts in the room explaining what each provision meant? No, they replied. Were they going to try and translate the legislative language into plain English? Not the plan, I was informed. I told them I didn't think much of the idea.
I was thinking about this while I read Igor Volsky's critique of last Thursday's C-SPAN summit. We in Washington have a tendency to confuse disclosure and information. They both have their uses, but they're very different. As any writer -- and more to the point, any editor -- knows, simply writing everything you've heard doesn't leave you with an informed audience. You need to identify which things are important and which are not, you need to explain things clearly, you need to rely on honest sources, you need to translate experts into English, and much more.
The Blair House Summit had its purpose, but the major impact was distracting the media for three weeks while Democrats figured out what their next legislative step was going to be. Things like reading the plan aloud or wheeling cameras into the room while partisans make self-serving arguments about the worth of various proposals might serve some purpose, but that purpose isn't informing people. Instead, it gives people the illusion of being informed, which might be better or might be worse, but is definitely different.
Photo credit: Jason Reed/Reuters.
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