Salient cases and social causality

The great 'On the Media' had an interview with 'the devil' - Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. But he did bring up an interesting point regarding the actual influence of the magazine in particular and the media in general.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: What do you think the world would be like if the Weekly Standard hadn't come along?

BILL KRISTOL:: Probably pretty similar. [CHUCKLES] I mean, I don't think we should exaggerate the importance of any one media organ. A lot of my conservative friends spend a lot of time exaggerating the importance of liberal media, you know, mainstream media, CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times. I always say, look, when the liberal media were dominant, when there was no Fox News, there was no Rush Limbaugh, there was no Weekly Standard, Reagan managed to win two huge election victories and then Bush won in the '80s. When all these things came along, Clinton managed to win in the '90s and Gore won the popular vote. So it strikes me that we all exaggerate probably the importance of these media outlets. I hope we've contributed to an intelligent debate and also, at times, to a lively and witty and even heated debate. That's part of democracy too.

Scott McConnell of the 'American Conservative' had a different view.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Is your big issue with the Weekly Standard that it's actually been particularly influential?

SCOTT McCONNELL:: Well, it kept the neoconservative movement together. Almost any political movement requires somebody to set down the line and set down talking points. And Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard writers are very good at that. When George Bush and Dick Cheney faced an unprecedented situation after 9/11, the neoconservatives were there with a ready-made plan of what to do, and that plan involved an attack on Iraq.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: I can understand how a Fox News Channel might successfully steer the national conversation, but a little political opinion magazine?

SCOTT McCONNELL:: Well, people who go on TV, on the Fox News Channel, even if they don't write for the Weekly Standard, read it. So I think they were able to create a mode of argumentation which then can be picked up and amplified, perhaps, in a slightly simpler form, by Sean Hannity, for instance.

Of course, what we have here are two models of causality applied to the same set of facts. One tells a story of long-term influence overall whereas the other provides a specific narrative that can trace individual influences (someone reads paper, is influenced, someone talks on TV or takes a particular action). It is interesting that both of these stories are logically mutually exclusive and also very compelling. However, on closer examination they can be reconciled fairly easily but this general discrepancy is prevalent in the discourse on causality.