The Power of ‘I Was Wrong’

The New York Times last week took a remarkable risk. Eight opinion writers published pieces explaining how they were wrong about something they had written previously and why they had changed their minds.

Paul Krugman wrote about how he had been wrong when he dismissed concerns about the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan causing inflation. Brett Stephens admitted he was wrong when he delivered a broadside condemnation of all supporters of Donald Trump.  Gail Collins confessed to regretting mentioning more than 80 times that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with a dog strapped to the roof of his car.

And on it went. Eight full mea culpas from the leading media influencers at the nation’s most important newspaper. Each had a headline that began with the words, “I was wrong.”

The Times editors explained they believed it was important for their columnists to “revisit their incorrect predictions and bad advice” to reinforce the idea that “good-faith intellectual debate is possible, that we should all be able to rethink our positions on issues.”

That got me thinking about when I have been wrong, either with an opinion on my radio show or a commentary I have written. My biggest mistake ever was a full-throated endorsement of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I was wrong because I refused to consider legitimate questions about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was way too flippant about the consequences of war and myopically believed democracy would spread when Saddam was gone.

I have been wrong many times since then, but that one was a real doozy, and just revisiting it today is a reminder that I should hold myself to a higher standard. That includes paying special attention to correcting the record when I am wrong or when I change my mind because of new information.

Victor Lipman, author and business consultant, writes that admitting you are wrong can be the right move. “In a business environment, whether you’re a CEO or an entry-level employee, you can gain credibility. You’re seen as being honest… a stand-up… person to be trusted.”

Admittedly, the standard is somewhat different for journalists because we are supposed to get it right. Opinion writers have more latitude, but that freedom does not mean the work should escape scrutiny, and a self-audit is most meaningful.

As the Times editors’ wrote, “It’s not necessarily easy for Times Opinion columnists to engage in public self-reproach, but we hope that in doing so, they can be models of how valuable it can be to admit when you get things wrong.”

With all the opining that goes on in the media today, everybody cannot be right all the time. Instead of constantly doubling-down on opinions, the occasional “I was wrong” would be a healthy addition to the public discourse.

And I hope I’m right about that.

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