Ed Driscoll

Our Elite Media's Known-Unknowns

Back in the early days of the Blogosphere, bloggers were often characterized as “linkers versus thinkers.” The latter used their blogging platforms to ruminate on the day’s events via 5,0000 word essays; the former sent their readers off to what is hopefully expert opinion on a particularly topic.


But on rare occasions, we can catch the best of the “experts” admitting there’s much they don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld received plenty of catcalls for his tongue-twisting formulation in 2002 for saying that, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Many of the loudest hisses came from Beltway elitists who strike a pose of omniscience. (And then are consistently surprised whenever history doesn’t move in their direction.) But in the past few years, there have been several instances of old media elitists — who often had one or both feet actively in politics at some point in their lives — admitting there’s plenty that they themselves don’t know.

Most recently, there’s DNC/GE spokesman Chris Matthews who’s shocked! shocked! that there’s gambling going on inside Rick’s Cafe. Err, sorry, that there’s insider trading going on in Congress, despite Peter Schweizer’s recent best-selling Throw Them All Out, the myriad articles that it received in on both sides of the political spectrum, and the profile it received on 60 Minutes. Not to mention Matthews himself serving on the staffs of four Democratic members of Congress, and as an aide to then-Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill:


In September of 2010, Karl of Hot Air spotted this whopper from another liberal elitist whose resume includes being a former cohost of CNN’s Crossfire, a former opinion page editor at the L.A. Times, and a contributor to the Washington Post, Slate, Time and the Politico:

Credit Michael Kinsley for a little honesty:

I’m sitting here in a pile of reports and studies by think tanks, public-policy schools, the Office of Management and Budget, and self-appointed grandee fiscal crusaders. They all make the same, tiresomely familiar point: that this can’t go on. ***

There are a dozen ways to look at the national debt and the annual government deficit, and they all lead to varying degrees of panic. What’s especially scary about our fiscal situation is that everybody knows the facts and concedes the implication, but nobody is doing anything about it ***

And the national debt is just a fraction of the problem. State and local governments, unlike the national government in Washington, cannot print money, and many states have constitutions that forbid them to run a deficit. Nevertheless, they will be losing, together, about $140 billion this year. ***

Debt is everywhere you look. Here’s a short inside piece in The New York Times Magazine about state and local unfunded pension obligations for retired employees. They add up to between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. Until that article, I had given no thought whatsoever to shortfalls in state employee pension funds. You?

Well, yeah. And Matt Welch points out that Reason magazine has been all over the problem. And if you’re reading a conservative blog like this, you probably knew about it from Reason, or the Weekly Standard, or the American Spectator, Fox News, City Journal, the CATO Institute, National Review, the Heritage Foundation, Rush Limbaugh or any of the other right-leaning media that have been discussing it for years, but prominently for about a year.


I guess you can excuse some of the confusion from Matthews and Kinsley, given that the country revolves around a document that “was written more than 100 years ago” and is therefore “the text is confusing” to those reading it.

In that respect, perhaps this quote from a liberal elitist in 1992 is likely the most honest thing he’s ever said:

As Noemie Emery concluded in the fall of 2010, today’s Ivy League/Beltway meritocracy “has created an ‘elite’ without merit. In everyone’s eyes but its own.”  Only rarely can you catch them admitting what their known-unknowns actually are.

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