Writing in the The Australian Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal says that while “the cliche is that journalism is the first draft of history”, journalists have failed miserably at connecting the dots over the last 30 years or so:
Remember Japan Inc? If you were a semi-sentient consumer of news in the 1980s, it was hard to avoid the impression that Japan would soon overtake the US in global economic clout, if its corporations didn’t just purchase the country outright. Chalmers Johnson, Clyde Prestowitz and other soi-disant experts pronounced sagely on the invincible Japanese model of industrial organisation, while the media supplied a diet of stories about how companies such as Sony or Honda remained world-beaters, year in and year out.
Now consider the amazing media about-face in recent weeks on Iraq. Before January 30, dateline Baghdad was dateline Gotterdammerung. Now it’s dateline Democracy. Bombs are still exploding, but we aren’t reading much any more about how we’re losing hearts and minds or how Iraq is ethnically too fractious to have a meaningful democracy. Instead, the media connects the dots between elections in Baghdad and events in Beirut, Cairo and Ramallah, and talks about 1989.
It’s right that they should do so. But we should also connect the dots between today’s Iraq and ’80s Japan. The myth of Japan Inc took hold because there was so little Western reporting to suggest that not all was well with the Japanese economy. So, when Japan’s real-estate bubble burst and the economy flatlined for more than a decade, the world was caught unawares. The myth of an Iraqi quagmire took hold for similar reasons