Flexible Plan

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New at Reason: A car bomb Monday, a blowout sale on appliances Tuesday, a riot Wednesday, a smashingly thumbs-up poll result on Thursday… Anybody who pretends to know how things are going in Iraq is a fool. Jonathan Rauch explains why flexible thinking might be the wisest choice these days.

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  1. Flexibility is a necessity. Trial and error… I’m not so sure. It’s easy to plan poorly and call it “trial and error”, especially when you can take other people’s money to do it with practically no limitations; it kind of increases the odds that you’ll get enough chances to eventually succeed. But it does ignore opportunity cost, which I guess is the basic tenet of trial and error versus planning.

  2. Wow, one of the best articles on Iraq I have seen in a while. However, I question whether a rhetorical reversal would truly be positive (in a self-interested sense) for media. Mr. Rauch correctly contends that under normal circumstances, “only bad news is good news,” but I think Iraq is not as great an exception as he would have us believe. While it certainly would be a rarer report that presented a shining pronouncement of the Iraqi situation (Lord knows, any article absent the word “quagmire” would be a freaking breakthrough), and in the short-term, such a report in a traditionally liberal or moderate forum might prove positive for ratings, I do not think this is the kind of situation in which good news would be good for news outlets. When thousands or millions of Americans face death or injury, it is certain that people tune in praying for peace, and when personal security becomes an issue of prominance (as in the aftermath of September 11) viewers long for good, not bad news (picture triumphant firefighters and reunited families). But in a politically charged and relatively low-risk situation such as Iraq (host to 1/10 the casualties of September 11), it is doubtful that good news would attract viewership or readership. More likely, consumers, absent any sense of conflict, would simply turn away. Make no mistake, Iraq has become a political game to most Americans (despite its admittedly solemn reality) and games are only interesting when they are heated and their outcomes are in doubt. Despite an otherwise fascinating and insightful article, I would have to disagree with Mr. Rauch and say that the media, despite the distastefulness and untruthfulness of it all, is making exactly the right decision for ratings.

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