I’ll be on Al Jazeera at 7 p.m. tonight talking about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Tora Bora report that both Marcy and I wrote about this weekend. But is that actually a symptom of a deeper media problem? In a previous post’s comment thread, Sean writes:

I remember you saying that you were on a panel talking on “the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but I can’t imagine what would qualify you to be on a panel about a country you’ve visited for a couple of brief stints. And I’m not trying to pick on you here; there are all kinds of people talking a lot (and loudly) about Afghanistan who don’t really seem to know much at all about the country. To illustrate my point, how many of the people writing and talking about Afghanistan do you think can speak just one of the country’s languages? How many can even read a newspaper in Pashto or Dari?

I take the point, though. But I would say that if we’re talking about what the U.S.’s way forward is in Afghanistan and Pakistan (which is what my Netroots Nation panel was about), then, y’know, I don’t want to come across as an asshole or anything, but maybe I am qualified to give a perspective. If we’re talking about what Afghanistan or Pakistan should do to move forward, then I’m not remotely qualified.

The broader point is that people should expect actual country-matter experts on their panels or on their TV, and not just security reporters or other such narrow-slice people. I don’t really know how I can get around this problem. Should I say, “I’m not really going to do this appearance, you should try Olivier Roy or David Edwards” to use the two examples Sean suggests? I’m open to that. What I try to do when I actually appear on TV is to be very clear about what I don’t know and not bullshit, as I notice so much bullshit on cable news centers on presuming things that people don’t actually know. (Rule of thumb: if it’s in the New York Times, it’s true enough. I don’t accept that, no disrespect to the Times.) But what should I do to not be part of the problem? Serious question.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman