Preemptive leaks

Paul Raven @ 09-02-2011

After looking at kids adapting to living in public, here’s the other end of the scale: internationally-notorious public figures managing their public profile. Bush administration uber-weasel* Donald Rumsfeld has learned a few choice lessons from the sudden rise of radical transparency… or at least his publicity people have.

After Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, there are few rhetorical tactics Rumsfeld can employ to satisfy his hordes of critics. So he’s accompanying his memoir, Known and Unknown, with tons of primary source material: hundreds of raw documents detailing his thought process at the Pentagon, all searchable on his new website. This way, he’s not engaging with a debate he’s unlikely to win; he’s burying it under an avalanche of paper.

To put it uncharitably: when you’ve got a rep for being less-than-honest and unwilling to debate, you might as well let the documents speak for themselves.

This is interesting primarily because it subtly exploits a fundamental problem with all forms of communication, namely the signal-to-noise ratio. Or, to put it another way, the best way to hide needles is to put them in haystacks, and then salt the haystacks with a few distracting nuggets:

… RummyLeaks ain’t quite WikiLeaks: his documents have been officially declassified, and many paint him in quite the flattering light, on their face. But like WikiLeaks’ trove of war documents, Rumsfeld leaves it up to his readers to dig through a huge trove to find their own gems. A transparency measure, sure. But one that has the effect of snowing a reader under a ton of data, leaving them in the meantime with the narrative that he’s shaping.

I doubt this is going to make a huge difference to public perception of ol’ Rummy; them as have always backed him will continue to do so, and them as have always seen him as a weasel won’t take this hand-picked and carefully-manicured splurge of documentation as proof to the contrary. But it shows that old dogs really can learn new tricks… which is something to bear in mind every time you see your elected officials acting like they haven’t left the house since 1994. They’re not as naive or technologically out-of-touch as they’d like you to think.

[ * Yes, that’s a personal value judgement on my part; no, I have no interest in retracting it. ]

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7 Responses to “Preemptive leaks”

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    Weasels are noble and courageous animals. This is an insult to a fine animal.

  2. Chad says:

    Gates’ success as the SecDef is showing how poor Rumsfeld really was.

  3. Andy says:

    Surprising that a supposedly science blog would belittle actual primary source material, and instead push for engaging in debate with no documentation. Perhaps I should take the “fiction” in science fiction a bit more seriously.
    Also surprising that a science fiction blog would engage in politics. Nothing like annoying half of your readers. That’s really smart.

  4. Paul Raven says:

    “… a supposedly science blog… ” Don’t remember ever claiming this to be a science blog, Andy. 🙂

    “… actual primary source material… ” Handpicked by the subject of the autobography it’s being used to promote… no, no selection bias there, I’m sure.

    “Also surprising that a science fiction blog would engage in politics. Nothing like annoying half of your readers. That’s really smart.”

    Something tells me that this is your first visit here, Andy… and if this post has annoyed you, much as I hate to lose a potential reader, I really don’t think this is the science fiction blog for you. 🙂

  5. Andy says:

    “Something tells me that this is your first visit here, Andy”
    Something? Is it primary source material or just a feeling? Actually, you are my third bookmark under my tech group, and I’ve visited here over 100 times easily. I also have a politics group, which is where I go when I want to engage in politics. Perhaps you should change your title to “Near-future science fiction and fact and politics since 2001. BTW, I initially came here from a Instapundit link, if I remember correctly. I bet you had a lot of libertarians checking you out that day.

  6. Paul Raven says:

    Well, I hope you’ll accept my apology for making assumptions about you! Though I’m surprised you’ve never noticed me taking political angles here before, it’s not exactly a rarity; I hope that won’t put you off coming back.

    I find it interesting that you see a sharp line between the technological and the political, though; if there’s an underlying thesis to what I do here, it’s that such a division is, at best, one of convenience or, at worst, a sort of King Canute impersonation. I’d have said trying to separate tech and politicis these days – as the news has been making very clear – is like trying to separate technology from agriculture, art, or pretty much anything else. I’d be interested to see how you draw the line, and where. 🙂

  7. Andy says:

    My point is that politics can be easily avoided when the topic is future technology, which is speculation, to be sure, but really doesn’t involve Don Rumsfeld in any way, shape, or form. There are thousands of other websites that I could go to if I wanted to engage in Iraq war post-mortem, which I must say I now find quite tedious. I come to my tech sites when I want to get away from that. Surely, it’s your blog and you can post whatever you see fit. I’m just pointing out that the only reason I come here is to learn about future technologies and trends, of which you have some valuable insights.