The Fraud of 'Big-Picture' Thinking

In Washington, the Big Picture rules in part because there is a surprising lack of curiosity about government. There is passionate interest about the latest budget proposals for government agencies, passing new laws, or creating new programs. But the actual operation of government, the details of what specific government programs achieve or inflict, is considered mundane. The less a journalist understands an agency's policies, the more gullible he is for its propaganda.

Washington journalists' reality is largely defined by government press releases, which often are built around the Big Picture. The media rarely look beyond the government's proclaimed purpose for a program or policy. "Pack journalism" predominates -- and the pack rarely strays from the government reservation. When journalists do stray, it is often in a group -- after something has occurred or some pronouncement has been made signaling that it is okay to temporarily deviate from the official line. There is almost never any liability for Washington journalists who peddle false information received from the government, but they risk their careers if their criticisms of government turn out to be unsubstantiated. Sam Donaldson, the legendary ABC White House correspondent, observed of the Washington media, "As a rule, we are, if not hand-maidens of the establishment, at least blood brothers to the establishment. We end up the day usually having some version of what the White House ... has suggested as a story."

Those who invoke the Big Picture often have a vested interest in discouraging people from looking at grisly details. The Big Picture becomes the enabler of the Big Lie. The studied avoidance of the details of government policy makes it far easier for politicians to manipulate and deceive the public. The Big Picture allows governments to do as they please, confident that few people will pay attention to the details. And even when hundreds of thousands of people are killed, the government only needs to redefine the issue.

The Big Picture ensures that people learn little or nothing from the past and ignore the problems of the present. The Big Picture is the higher truth -- and everything else is mere ephemera. Big Picture myopia empowers those whose schemes and ambitions would be thwarted if people understood their plans.

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