Tim Russert’s Obsession with Consistency

Matthew Yglesias has a good article in the Washington Monthly about the follies of Tim Russert’s approach to interviews on his very influential TV show "Meet the Press". It captures something I’ve blogged about which is the obsession people seem to have about whether you’re changing your mind, as if it’s the ultimate sin. We prize consistency to a fault. James Fallows summarizes:

The default assumption of many Meet the Press sessions — which has spilled over to the be default assumption in this election-cycle’s unfortunate debates — is that if you say something (about taxes, Iraq, global warming, what have you) in 2008 that represents any shift from what you said in 1996 or 2001, you’re presumptively a liar or fraud. Thus the dramatic on-screen graphics comparing your words from then with your words from now, and thus the closeups to see whether the politician is stammering or losing his cool under this scrutiny. The problem is (as Yglesias devastatingly lays out): sometimes a changing position means you’re craven. And sometimes it does not. The world changes. New information emerges. Life goes on. Whether — and why — a politician has ever changed position is part of what we need to know. But it’s not the only thing that matters — or in most cases, the main thing. To quote one of the Atlantic’s founders,

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."


In an old post of mine titled Changing Your Mind in the Executive Suite, Dave Jilk left a smart comment:

As with most things, there is a balance, and one builds a record over time of foolish consistency, changing with the wind, or general steadfastness with an open mind. It’s the record over time and over many instances that matters.

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