Tuesday, February 16, 2010

substance and perceptions

I don't feel qualified to answer the question, what is reality? in scientific or philosophical terms. But I know that policymakers in Washington often acknowledge, and lament, that perceptions are frequently judged as reality.

When presidents have trouble persuading public opinion of the wisdom and value of what they are doing, they change their messaging approach in search of better poll results. That appears to be the plan of the Obama White House.

It's useful to remember, however, that American journalistic culture is predisposed to focus on messages and perceptions to the exclusion of substance, as George Packer brilliantly argues.

While I love political process and tactics stories, just as I love salted cashews, I don't want them to drive out reports on the substance of policies. We citizens need to know, for example, exactly what our troops and civilians are doing in Afghanistan, in addition to whatever public diplomacy or information operations may be under way.

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