No Pundit Survives Contact With a Historian
James Dunnigan’s article in yesterday’s StrategyPage, “No Pundit Survives Contact With a Historian,” makes an interesting (if self-serving) argument:
The reporting of military events in StrategyPage often differs from how the mass media describes the same events. ThatÃ¢€™s because the mass media is under enormous pressure to report startling and “competitive,” news. StrategyPage isnÃ¢€™t. Our editors and contributors have a background in history and historical simulation (wargames), and that provides a very different perspective. Our analysis, based on historical trends and past performance, is far more accurate than the dramatic headlines the mass media use to describe the same events. But not as dramatic. Reality tends to be dull.
Dramatic headlines have, for over a century, been the key to success in the media business. While most reporters believe their job is simply to report what happens, as accurately as they can, editors know better. Accurate reporting loses out to sensationalistic reporting every time. Thus we like to say that, at least when it comes to long term accuracy, no pundit survives contact with a historian.
Editors also rely on the fact that most consumers of mass media news do not revisit old stories to see how accurate they were. Historians, however, do that all the time.
The rest of the piece goes on to explain the advantages of war gaming and historical simulation, techniques Dunnigan and his crew employ, over traditional journalistic coverage. It’s somewhat one-sided but does a good job of explaining why reporters, focused excessively on the moment at hand, are so often wrong in their analysis.