by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
It seems like the more technology weather forecasters have, the less accurate their predictions are. It’s almost like there is an inverse relationship between the number of times a meteorologist says the phrase “super doppler” and the odds that he or she will get it right.
Perhaps with all this technology at hand, they feel obligated to make a prediction regardless of whether they have any clue as to what will happen with the weather. Stations spend millions of dollars on weather equipment, and I imagine that the station owner might get a little ticked if the weather person went on the nightly broadcast and declared “it might thunderstorm or it might be sunny; I really have no idea what will happen.”
Nevertheless, we still tune in to the TV weather to hear the forecasters’ expert predictions. Perhaps it is the “act of God” quality about weather that makes us continually forgive the inaccuracies of our meteorological experts. Although it’s one thing to forgive the weather experts when they get it wrong, I can’t understand why our news media continue to turn to the same political and policy experts for guidance when they continually get it wrong.
For example, take the stalwart neoconservative William Kristol. In the buildup to the Iraq war, the news media called on Kristol as a Middle East expert who could forecast how the war would play out.
Kristol was happy to share his expertise, informing us that Saddam Hussein already possessed nuclear weapons and if we didn’t invade he would inflict worse attacks than 9/11 on us in the future. Luckily, Saddam’s removal would “start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy” and a war in Iraq “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.” Kristol pooh-poohed the thought that sectarian violence might occur, narrowed the potential cost of the war to just $100 billion to $200 billion and assured us that “very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president.”
This is just a small sample of the predictions made by Kristol that turned out to be grossly mistaken.
And where is Kristol now? Relegated to the dustbin of history as an idealistic neophyte without any real background, knowledge or insight into Middle Eastern affairs who helped lead us into an intractable political and military mess? Is he hiding in shame? Labeled the Nostradumbass of our times and never turned to again for advice on Middle Eastern politics?
No. Kristol is currently a visiting professor at Harvard and is a regular guest on television and radio shows, where he gives his expert view on – get this – why we need to go to war with Iran and how well that enterprise will play out.
Just how many times can you be wrong and still be considered an expert?
Of course, there is a whole list of people who accurately predicted the problems with the Iraq invasion – Scott Ritter, Peter Galbraith and others – but they are not considered experts when it comes to Iran. Why?
I have no idea. Perhaps it is because they try to predict the future based on the not-so-rosy reality of the region rather than the fiction of Middle Eastern democracy.
More likely, it is because the broadcast media have become lazy, simply categorizing various experts in a database that they can pull from to get advice on the topic at hand, never looking back to examine the track record of the experts on their lists or the possibility that someone else might be able to offer better insight.
“I am often asked to be on television to describe Michael Richards or the Duke lacrosse racial controversy in Durham, N.C.,” noted Jesse Jackson. “But I am not asked my opinion on the Iraqi commission report. Most of the people on the commission have never been to Iraq. I met Saddam Hussen and brought Americans out of Iraq and Syria and Cuba and Yugoslavia. So why pigeonhole me just to respond to a broken-down comedian and not to talk about war and peace?”
It’s one thing to forgive the weather forecaster for the errant prediction of rain or sunshine. But we shouldn’t continue to rely on self-proclaimed experts like William Kristol when they have clearly demonstrated that they don’t know what they are talking about.