Daily Archives: April 4, 2012

Could future journalists uncover a Watergate?

I was intrigued by this question that The Washington Post posed on Twitter today: “Could the Web generation uncover a Watergate-type scandal?”

I followed the link and saw that the piece was based on a panel discussion featuring Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They had their doubts:

“One of the colleges asked students in a journalism class to write a one-page paper on how Watergate would be covered now,” said Bob Woodward, “and the professor — ”

“Why don’t you say what school it was,” suggested Carl Bernstein, sitting to Woodward’s left in a session titled “Watergate 4.0: How Would the Story Unfold in the Digital Age?”

“Yale,” Woodward said. “He sent the one-page papers that these bright students had written and asked that I’d talk to the class on a speakerphone afterward. So I got them on a Sunday, and I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”

“This is Yale,” Bernstein said gravely.

“That somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events,” Woodward said. “And they went on to say the political environment would be so different that Nixon wouldn’t be believed, and bloggers and tweeters would be in a lather and Nixon would resign in a week or two weeks after Watergate.”

A small ballroom of journalists — which included The Washington Post’s top brass, past and present — chuckled or scoffed at the scenario…

I also enjoyed the way the piece, written by Dan Zak, characterized the Woodstein legacy:

Tuesday’s panel briefly reunited the pair, whose untangling of the Nixon administration inspired a generation of journalists who have since been laid off or bought out in large numbers. Woodward and Bernstein’s main point was evocative of a previous, plentiful era: Editors gave them the time and encouragement to pursue an intricate, elusive story, they said, and then the rest of the American system (Congress, the judiciary) took over and worked. It was a shining act of democratic teamwork that neither man believes is wholly replicable today — either because news outlets are strapped or gutted, or because the American people have a reduced appetite for ponderous coverage of a not-yet-scandal, or because the current Congress would never act as decisively to investigate a president.

For the record, while I may indeed be one of those “who have since been laid off or bought out in large numbers,” I didn’t get the idea to go into journalism from these two guy — however much their example may have encouraged me. I was already working as a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal when I first heard of them…

Three times in a week, I’m mistaken for Mike

It happened two more times last night.

Mike Miller

After dropping by the victory party Cameron Runyan was having at 701 Whaley, I went to Kit Smith’s house to see what was happening with Daniel Coble. I went in wondering whether things were going well — and knowing that if they weren’t, people would feel somewhat constrained with a blogger in their midst. It only took a moment to find out that Daniel was a close second in a runoff, and that the campaign felt good about that — better than if they had been in a runoff with Jenny Isgett.

As I was absorbing that, a nice lady came up to me and started telling me that while she hadn’t followed me all that closely when I was at the newspaper, she had really come to appreciate my work, and she really, truly appreciated that I had decided to throw in my lot with the Coble campaign, and then she gave me a big hug. As I was trying figure this out, and muttering, “But I’m not… that is, I’m neutral… I mean…,” Bud Ferillo explained that I was there as a blogger. At which point the lady stepped back and looked at me and realized who I was.

Which was not Mike Miller.

A very short while later, I was in another room discussing the state of the world with Joel Smith, and a man came up to me and said, “Hi, you’re Mike Miller. I’m…,” at which point I interrupted to say, “No, I’m not.”

Not Mike Miller.

I told you previously about how this happened over at Belinda Gergel’s house the day she and Mike and Steve Morrison endorsed Daniel.

I don’t know what it is (it’s not like Mike looks like THIS guy), but I can almost sorta kinda see it. And I have this vague memory of this mistake having happened once or twice, long ago, when we worked at the paper together. Something about general similarity in height and weight and maybe head shape, and now hair color. We’re both from the Pee Dee (he’s from Dillon;  I’m from Bennettsville), but I don’t think that’s it.

Most of the folks at that gathering had on Daniel Coble stickers. I felt like I needed my own sticker, in the same yellow-and-black motif that Rob Barge designed for him, saying “I’m not Mike Miller.” But I don’t know if it would do any good…

What if Malthus was actually right for once?

Not that I think for a moment he will be — no one in the history of ideas was ever more spectacularly wrong (the poor fellow argued that resources would never be able to keep up with population growth even as an agricultural revolution led to much faster growth in food supplies than in population).

But some still predict that he will be. Andrew Sullivan drew my attention to this:

Grain yields are beginning to hit a “glass ceiling” in many countries, Brown said, where farmers have already taken advantage of what science has to offer for improving yield. As more and more countries hit an upper limit on productivity, the world grain harvest will begin to plateau, even as demand for food continues to rise, causing a rise in prices. More worrisome, the global food market is vulnerableto external shocks such as prolonged drought. “We don’t have idle land, we’re flat out,” says Brown. “We don’t have [food] stocks. We’re living harvest to harvest. The question becomes, what if we have a major shortfall in the world?”

Of course, if Malthus were ever proven right, that would be an extraordinarily bad thing. So I continue to root against him, even as I occasionally worry: Have you bought a bad of “topsoil” lately? It’s like all chunks of bark and stuff…

The biggest cognitive divide in politics

This was something I wrote as a comment on another thread, but I think it deserves its own post.

We were talking about the Midlands transit system, such as it is, and Stephen, making the sort of “me vs. you” argument that we generally hear from Doug, protested that “It’s not my responsibility to make sure an employee gets to work.”

I responded along these lines…

Stephen, it’s not that it’s your “responsibility to make sure an employee gets to work.” It’s that it’s in your interest (and everyone else’s in the community) to do so.

But if you’re like Doug, I’ll probably never convince you of that. You either get it or you don’t.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest cognitive divide in politics. It’s not between “liberals” and “conservatives.” It’s between people who see the interconnectivity, and those who don’t.

Note that I don’t say “believe in” interconnectivity, or “advocate” interconnectivity. It’s not a matter of “should be” or “ought to.” The interdependence, the complex way in which our fates are intertwined in a modern economy, simply IS. And we either have policies and strategies that acknowledge the fact and address it effectively, or we don’t.

I should have known it would be Moe

If there’s one thing an INTP should know, it’s to go with his gut.

Which I did not do yesterday.

From the start of the campaign for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council, I had thought Moe Baddourah was the guy to beat. Yes, partly that was because of all the yard signs. Months ago (way early in terms of conventional yard sign theory), I saw about 10 on one block of Wheat Street. Everywhere you went in the district: “Moe!”

Beyond that, there was his convincing assurance that he had learned a lot from Seth Rose in losing to him two years ago, and was applying the lessons.

So until very recently, I was sure that it would be Moe and someone else in a runoff. Either Daniel Coble or Jenny Isgett.

But then, in the last days of the campaign, I heard that there were polling data out there indicating that Jenny Isgett would come in either first or second, with Daniel Coble being in a runoff with her. It was counterintuitive, but then I thought, “Hey, we’re talking small number of voters here, so tiny fluctuations can make a difference and overwhelm the factors that you’re seeing out there.” That caused me to overthink what I was seeing. I started thinking, “Moe peaked too soon.” (Of course, I was aware that with such a small number of voters, even the best polling data could be negated by relatively small shifts on Election Day — which was why I hedged my prediction.)

Well, we saw what happened. My gut was right all along.

As it usually is. I should have known better than to be so influenced by one hearsay data point.

Always trust the gut, without overwhelming evidence to the contrary…

Anyway, now it’s Moe and Daniel in a tight runoff. Right now, either of them could win. My gut is telling me that Coble should be able to win over more Isgett voters than Baddourah, but it’s also telling me it isn’t sure yet. It’s still collecting cosmic waves, or whatever. And it has fresh reason not to count Moe out.

When it’s sure, I may tell you. Then again, I may not. This latest experience is reminding my why I avoided making predictions for so many years.