Michael Cohen thinks journalists are bad foreign policy analysts, taking aim at one particularly pathetic example of journalism — Tom Friedman. He accuses Friedman and other journalists of over-dramatizing.

I feel like it’s endemic in the profession – a propensity to make grand simplistic pronouncements based on anecdotal experiences rather than rigorous analysis. Granted this is a problem in not just foreign policy, but it seems particularly bad in this field. Maybe its because foreign correspondents are seen to have some sort of unique insight; when in fact the opposite is quite likely true because they are basing their analysis on immediate experience rather than actual historical or cultural study. Or maybe it’s the difficulty that journalists face in getting to the heart of a story – a point bravely raised here by Jerome Starkey in regard to Western coverage of NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Cohen’s main argument is that journalists gain an exaggerated picture of reality by relying on anecdote — which their jobs often requires — over academic study. I don’t think I’d make as sweeping a statement as he does. Robert Fisk is a prime example of a journalist who both tells good stories and understands cultural and historical nuance. Even academics fall victim to the Manicheanism Cohen blames on journalists. Case in point: neoconservatives.

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