Editorial Writer Doesn’t Know Much About Subject
Dave Shuler reads a NYT editorial cautioning us to avoid a trade war with China lest it jack up the cost of airplanes and concludes “the editorial writer has no idea of what the Chinese produce, what we buy from the Chinese, or what goes into a modern aircraft.” And he can’t do math, either.
The only surprising thing about this is that Dave is surprised. Don Snow, my dissertation director and a one who worked briefly as a journalist before grad school, often noted that, to a journalist, an “expert” is anyone who knows more about a given subject than he does. Which, Snow pointed out, was usually a very long list. This partly explains why talking people who will reliably return their phone calls are often quoted on topics far outside their legitimate expertise.
Likely, the editorial writer in question overheard a conversation somewhere from an “expert” and found a few quotes to back up the idea he was advancing. With no real understanding of his subject, which is after all pretty complicated, it’s not hard to go astray and yet have no clue that you’re doing so. And, certainly, none of the other editors were likely to know more about the topic.