Breaking Up Washington’s Pack Mentality

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died Saturday morning, and as the New York Times reports, it took two days before the outside world learned the news. Such is the way things work in an hermetically sealed totalitarian state.

But even in our free and open society, the most obvious truths can take a while to get out. Back in late 2002 and early 2003, after North Korea seized control of spent nuclear fuel rods from international monitors, the Bush administration, on whose watch the theft happened, made the audacious case that it was the Clinton administration’s fault that the regime would now be able to get nukes. The press, then in awe of Bush and absorbed in the coming war with Iraq, generally bought that line of reasoning.

But in the spring of 2004, Fred Kaplan wrote a brilliant piece in the Washington Monthly based on interviews with participants that blew off the fog of confusion over the North Korean nuclear crisis and placed the blame squarely on the Bush administration, where it belonged. After that piece, the press coverage changed, and it was no longer possible to see the events that led to North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as anything but a colossal blunder by Bush, on a par with his decision to invade Iraq.

Kaplan’s piece is as good example of the kind of work the Washington Monthly aspires to do—carefully-reported, clearly-argued stories that shake up the pack mentality that too often leads inside-the-Beltway reporters to miss what ought to be obvious.

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. He was an editor at the magazine from 1986 to 1988.