The Right To Not Know

by Brien Jackson

First of all, I will agree that it would be preferable for national political columnists with access to the Op-Ed page of the Washington Post to have a basic understanding of the contours of major issue debates, but then again, what is that ultimately good for? Do we really want people with a cursory knowledge of issue X discussing that issue in the mass media? Personally I think that’s just asking for misinformation, sloppy facts, and wrong assumptions to find their way into the larger conversation. So, with that in mind, let me give Gene Robinson some props for actually admitting he didn’t know something on cable.

Robinson aside, this event further highlights how bizarre our political media culture really is. I’m not going to fault Robinson for not being an expert on healthcare, if for no other reason than it’s just bizarre to expect anyone to be an expert on everything. But, with that in mind, it’s also bizarre to contract writers to contribute regular Op-Eds on a wide range of topics. The obvious conclusion of such a policy is that we expect our columnists to write at least a handful of columns on topics they really don’t know much about, which is just asking for them to get something wrong, and to detract from the public knowledge as a result. Blogs aren’t immune from this, of course. The nature of the news cycle certainly creates plenty of incentives to jump on the topic of the day to stay in the conversation, even if you don’t know much about it, but, at the same time, there’s enough material out there to link to that you can stick to whatyou know if you prefer, as well as mutlipe angles to approach a story from. I’m not the biggest healthcare wonk or sceince expert, for example, but I can talk about health refrom and cap-and-trade from an economic or political standpoint. And, if all else fails, you can shut up and read. But you don’t get that luxury when one of te major dailies is writing you six figure checks to pump out a couple of columns a week on more or less every issue.