The Trouble With the Well-Informed

Tim Lee makes an excellent point about last year’s scandal involving TV networks and former generals to bolster a general observation about the problem with military expertise:

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Similarly, last year the New York Times documented that the “military analysts” you see on cable TV programs tend to have close (and almost always undisclosed) ties to the Pentagon. The tricky thing about this is that it may very well be true that these folks are the most knowledgeable about military strategy. What better way to become an expert than to work in the military for decades? But at the same time, if you want impartial analysis of current policy, you don’t want all of your experts to be people with close ties to the people running that policy.

On a selfish note, this would be my defense of the role of generalist commentators in the media/political ecosystem. It’s of course important to know actual facts, and a generalist has an obligation to try to learn. And real experts and serious reporters both have invaluable roles to play. But in many situations, information is concentrated among “insiders” who can be the best-informed without having the best perspective.