As you may have guessed by now, I'm an avid reader of Slate.com. [Yes, I know the contributors and staff of Slate is generally quite liberal, but I find the selection of content so varied and the point of view quite interesting (and silly titles to boot).] Anyways, here's an instance where the Slate editor-at-large has helped me to put a hot news item in a bit of perspective and hopefully, helps media outlets maintain (or build up) their reporting credibility.
The disappearance of 380 tons of arms from Al-Qaqaa, Iraq is being hyped up by the Kerry campaign. I completely agree with the Kerry campaign on the questions this should bring up in one's mind about Iraq war planning. But what Jack Shafer has written here is really interesting in that it calls into question not only the Bush admin, but the IAEA for their methods considering they didn't trust Saddam to begin with. A quick example from Mr. Shafer's piece:
The Times explains that HMX and RDX can be disguised as "harmless goods, easily slipped across borders." I'd like to hear the IAEA explain what logic it used in deciding that hundreds of tons of high explosives could be trusted to the custodianship of Saddam Hussein.
It also calls to task the additional work the NY Times should do to put things into perspective by, among other things, telling us about how many other explosives might be there:
Congratulations to the New York Times for breaking this story, but I'd still like to see it placed in context. For instance, Al-Qaqaa was one of the CIA's 500 "medium priority" weapons sites: How many of those sites were searched and secured? Are other dangerous caches missing? Was Al-Qaqaa the only HMX, RDX, and PETN depot in Iraq? Did U.N. inspectors allow the Iraqis to hoard other dangerous munitions?
There are actually a lot of other interesting things brought up in this specific article. In general, I think it's good for all us to consider what the whole story might be for anything we read. Of course, we can't always count on our favorite newspapers to provide the whole story, but I'm sure the blogosphere can do a good job at proving other perspectives on the stories and helping to fill in gaps where they may be. If nothing else, simply keeping this all in mind will help us all put things in perspective and be the skeptics that we all should be. Keep that in mind the next time you read your morning paper.