The Basic Problem Is Ignorance

Conservatives often deride journalists as members of an elite, but the real problem is rather the opposite: most reporters and editors aren’t very smart.

There are, of course, honorable exceptions. But journalists purport to sit in judgment of businessmen, and the truth is that a large majority of journalists aren’t smart enough to understand what businessmen do. This thought is brought to mind (as it so often is) by the corrections section of the New York Times, which this morning included these remarkable items:

Because of an editing error, an article on Saturday about riots in Lithuania over planned economic austerity measures referred incorrectly to the geographic location of Bulgaria, where similar rioting had broken out a few days earlier. Bulgaria is in the Balkan group of states, not the Baltics.

An article on Saturday about the Pentagon’s search for military bases in the United States that could replace the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, misstated the size of Fort Leavenworth, Kan., one base under consideration. It is 8.8 square miles — not eight miles by eight miles, or 64 square miles.

These are, to be blunt, pathetically stupid mistakes. A reasonably bright junior high school student would know that Bulgaria is in the Balkans and an eight square mile area is not eight miles by eight miles. But these errors were made by a New York Times reporter and approved by at least one New York Times editor.

No one with this basic lack of arithmetic and geographic knowledge would last for a week in the business world, yet such ignorance flourishes in the world of journalism. We see it nearly every day in, among other places, the Times’ corrections section. For these ill-informed people to try to instruct the rest of us, as though they were operating from a position of superior knowledge or understanding, is farcical. And that is, in my opinion, the most fundamental problem with American journalism.

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