Orgy of (political) speculation…

TV’s talking heads got it wrong. The beltway snipers turned out to be something far different than most “experts” supposed. That this would happen is no surprise. Error stalks those who speak with little information, knowledge, or wisdom. From the Post’s story today:

The important question is, was the orgy of speculation harmless — or was there a very dangerous undercurrent to it? By saturating the public’s consciousness with phantom images of thirtyish white men, did the media profilers distract attention from a more general and possibly open-minded search for the perpetrators? Did the speculation merely pollute further a well already tainted by faulty eyewitness accounts, such as the elusive (and evidently nonexistent) white van?

If so, the media’s performance raises a chilling possibility: that the suspects might have evaded detection for so long because witnesses were focusing too intently on media-created “profiles” that didn’t come close to the real thing.

This situation makes an easy illustration of the dangers of TV punditry. Not so easy to see are the dangers of such an orgy of speculation in political coverage. Readers of the defunct Brill’s Content may recall the feature in which the magazine held pundits accountable for their blunders and erroneous prognosticating. The blogosphere now handles that important work. I would suggest that, as the Post reporter does today, we begin asking a similar set of questions about the effect of so-called expert commentary on the political process.

UPDATE (4:51 p.m.): Slate takes a look at the profilers.