Monday, July 30, 2007

The Dangers of Opinionating

Are there any? I'm thinking of the concrete dangers here, such as becoming disrespected as an authority if you get something badly wrong. Or losing your well-paying perch at some major news organization because you were talking out of your ass. Or at least not getting invited back to the O'Reilly Show or Hardball because you got your facts wrong. Do such frightening consequences exist?

I doubt it. The blogger Culture of Truth posted some pundit quotes about the Iraq war last night on Eschaton threads, and I looked for some more, to see what happens to people who get something very, very wrong. My conclusion is that they get rewarded for it.

FAIR has a long list of quotes which should make the people who made them blush a little, at a minimum. For instance, here is Christopher Hitchens in 2003 on the idea of invading Iraq:

"This will be no war -- there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention.... The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling.... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on."

And here is David Carr in the New York Times also in 2003:

"This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right."

I'm imagining all the statements we ever make dangling behind us on long strings ending in little cartoonish thought bubbles. As we move along the path of life some bubbles get loose and float off like balloons, never to be seen again, but other bubbles stick to us as if glued. To us ordinary folks, at least.

But I think pundits own Magic Scissors which they use to cut off those threads so that nothing they ever said in the past really matters for their present credibility. That's the joy of punditry, really: It's all about being outrageously original, and this is a bit easier if you can be outrageously wrong at the same time.