Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 22nd, 2023

Masks and images

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Masks are arrested expressions, and admirable echoes of feeling, at once faithful, discreet, and superlative. Living things in contact with the air must acquire a cuticle, and it is not urged against cuticles that they are not hearts; yet some philosophers seem to be angry with images for not being things, and with words for not being feelings. Words and images are like shells, no less Integral parts of nature than are the substances they cover, but better addressed to the eye, and more open to observation. I would not say that substance exists for the sake of appearance, or faces for the sake of masks, or the passions for the sake of poetry and virtue. Nothing arises in nature for the sake of anything else; all these phases and products are involved equally in the rounds of existence…

— George Santayana, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (London: Constable, 1922)

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2023 at 3:15 pm

Learning from Disasters: Political Media Edition

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James Fallows has an excellent column exploring why journalists (and their editors) do so poorly at learning from their mistakes and offers some lessons they might have learned. (In the case of the NY Times, it became clear from the responses journalists and editors made to the Public Editor, particularly Margaret Sullivan, that the problem of not learning from mistakes was due to a deep-seated and unshakeable belief that they were incapable of making mistakes, and any errors of any sort were always someone else’s fault — often the readers, who “read it wrong.”)

Fallows writes:

We all make mistakes. People, organizations, countries. The best we can do is admit and face them. And hope that by learning from where we erred, we’ll avoid greater damage in the future.

Relentless and systematic self-critical learning is why commercial air travel has become so safe. (As described here, and recent posts about the JFK close call here and here.) Good military organizations conduct “lessons learned” exercises after victories or defeats. Good businesses and public agencies do the same after they succeed or fail.

We in the press are notably bad at formally examining our own errors. That is why “public editor” positions have been so important, and why it was such a step backward for the New York Times to abolish that role nearly six years ago. Similarly this is why I think the generally excellent ProPublica is making a mistake in flatly refusing to address questions about its notorious “lab leak” story from last fall.

Three welcome words: ‘I Was Wrong.’

Here’s another example of facing a mistake, or trying to ignore it: the buildup to the “Red Wave” that never happened in the 2022 midterms.

Pundits and much of the mainstream press spent most of 2022 describing Joe Biden’s unpopularity and the Democrats’ impending midterm wipeout. As it happened, Biden and the party nationwide did remarkably well.

On the morning after the election, conservative pundit Henry Olsen had an opinion column in the Washington Post headlined “I Was Wrong About the Midterms. Here’s What I Missed.”

That’s to his credit. (For the record, I disagree with him about most things.) A number of other writers quickly owned up to misjudgment.

By comparison: In its news coverage, not the opinion page, the New York Times had been among the most certain-sounding in preordaining the Democrats’ loss. This was its front page just one day before the election: . . .

.Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2023 at 2:23 pm

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