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RC practice Passage with Explanation -39

Suspicious as they are of American intentions, and bolstered by court rulings that seem to give them license to seek out and publish any and all government secrets, the media's distrust of our government, combined with their limited understanding of the world at large, damages our ability to design and conduct good policy in ways that the media rarely imagine.

The leak through which sensitive information flows from the government to the press is detrimental to policy insofar as it almost completely precludes the possibility of serious discussion. Leaders often say one thing in public and quite another thing in private conversation. The fear that anything they say, even in what is construed as a private forum, may appear in print, makes many people, whether our own government officials or the leaders of foreign countries, unwilling to speak their minds. .

Must we be content with the restriction of our leaders' policy discussions to a handful of people who trust each other, thus limiting the richness and variety of ideas that could be brought forward through a larger group because of the nearly endemic nature of this problem? And along with the limiting of ideas, we have less reliable information to analyze. It is vitally important for the leaders of the United States to know the real state of affairs internationally, and this can occur only if foreign leaders feel free to speak their minds to our diplomats. This cannot occur when leaders are fearful of finding their private thoughts published in newspapers, and therefore do not share their real beliefs (let alone their secrets) unless they are certain that confidences will be respected.

Until recently, it looked as if the media had convinced the public that journalists were more reliable than the government; thus, many citizens came to believe that the media were the best sources of information. When the media challenged a governmental official, the public presumed that the official was in the wrong. However, this may be changing. With the passage of time, the media have lost luster. They—having grown large and powerful—provoke the same public skepticism that other large institutions in the society do. A series of media scandals has contributed to this. Many Americans have concluded that the media are no more credible than the government, and public opinion surveys reflect much ambivalence about the press.

While leaks are generally defended by media officials on the grounds of the public's "right to know, " in reality they are part of the Washington political power game, as well as part of the policy process. The "leaker " may be currying favor with the media, or may be planting information to influence policy. In the first case, he is helping himself by enhancing the prestige of a journalist; in the second, he is using the media as a stage for his preferred policies. In either instance, it closes the circle: the leak begins with a political motive, is advanced by a politicized media, and continues because of politics. Although some of the journalists think they are doing the work, they are more often than not instruments of the process, not prime movers. The media must be held accountable for their activities, just like every other significant institution in our society, and the media must be forced to earn the public's trust.


Based on the passage, when the media now challenge the actions of a public official, the public assumes that:

[A] the official is wrong.
[B] the media are always wrong.
[C] the media may be wrong.
[D] D. the official and the media may both be wrong.
Option: 3

Go back to paragraph 4 to review what the public thinks of the media. The author argues that the public is equally skeptical of media and government, saying that in the past, the public always assumed the media was right when it challenged the government, but that "this may be changing. " Therefore, the public might now consider the possibility that the media, rather than the government, is wrong. While the wrong answer choices distort this, (C) rewards careful and methodical thought.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. The author argued that the public generally thought this in the past, but that it's not necessarily the case anymore.

(B): Distortion. The author suggests that the public might believe that the media is wrong, but never says that the media's always considered wrong in a showdown with government.

(D): Distortion. The author never suggests that both may be wrong; the conflict is presented in either/or terms.


Leaked information typically comes to journalists anonymously since the government official leaking the information fears reprisal. What relevance does this have to the passage?

[A] It supports the claim that the leaker plants information to influence policy.
[B] It supports the claim that journalists are more reliable than the government.
[C] It weakens the claim that the media can be used as a stage for an official's preferred policies.
[D] It weakens the claim that a leaker can curry favor with a journalist.
Option: 4

How do anonymous leaks affect the author's argument? Use your work from the last question: 5 argues that officials use leaks as a way of either currying favor with the media or planting information to influence policy. How does anonymity affect each of these? While it would have no effect on the policy aspect, it would negate the possibility of currying favor. Therefore, if most leaks are anonymous, the author's argument about favor—currying must be weakened.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. As explained above, anonymity would have no effect on this motivation.

(B): Out of Scope. It would have no bearing on the issue of reliability, and the author argues that this isn't the case anyhow.

(C): Opposite. As explained above, the policy aspect isn't affected by anonymity.

Strategy Point:

Use your work from previous questions as much as possible on the questions that follow. The same point will often be tested on multiple questions in the same passage, making for quick points!


In the context of the fifth paragraph, the term prime movers would most accurately refer to:

[A] U.S. officials who pass on sensitive information to the media.
[B] journalists who are attempting to enhance their own prestige.
[C] media executives who use their own journalists to further political causes.
[D] the unwritten rules that govern the flow of leaked information in Washington.
Option: 1

Go back to the context to review what the author is saying: he's arguing that journalists are used as tools rather than being the ones in charge. Therefore, the "prime mover " must refer to whoever is in charge, which the author suggests is the official doing the leaking. (A) says just this.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. The author says just the opposite: the journalists aren't the prime mover.

(C): Out of Scope. Media executives aren't mentioned in the situation at all.

(D): Out of Scope. The author refers to the primer movers as the officials angling for power, not abstract rules that govern leaks.


Implicit in the author's argument that leaks result in far more limited and unreliable policy discussions with foreign leaders is the idea that:

[A] leaks should be considered breaches of trust and therefore immoral.
[B] leaks have occurred throughout the history of politics.
[C] foreign and U.S. leaders discussed policy without inhibition before the rise of the mass media.
[D] leaders fear the public would react negatively if it knew the real state of affairs.
Option: 4

Review the author's argument in paragraph 2 that leaks harm discussions with foreign leaders. What is the author assuming in this argument? The author argues that foreign leaders don't want their private thoughts to be made public; he must also therefore assume that leaders have some sort of reason for not wanting their views to be made public. (D) provides a possible reason. If unclear, use the denial test: if leaders didn't have this fear, what would be their motivation for hiding their personal views?

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. The author dislikes leaks, but never argues that they're immoral. This is extreme.

(B): Distortion. There's no evidence that leaks have occurred throughout history.

(C): Out of Scope. The author never suggests that there were no barriers to discussion before the press, only that there are far more barriers now that the press is in the habit of leaking these discussions.


Imagine you are an opponent of the author and disagree with his conclusions. In an upcoming written rebuttal you want to address the author's best—supported claims first. For which of the following claims does the passage provide some supporting evidence or explanation?

[A] The media rarely understand that their actions damage America's ability to conduct foreign policy.
[B] Leaks can be an intentional part of the policy process.
[C] Every significant institution in society besides the media is held accountable for their activities.
[D] The media is suspicious of the intentions of the American government.
Option: 2

Review the author's main points before looking for an answer choice that is both a claim made in the passage and supported by evidence. This question is harder than some of the same type because all the answer choices are claims made by the passage. However, three claims are simply made, with no support. (B) alone is a claim made (in paragraph 5) and supported by explanation that makes up the bulk of the paragraph.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Faulty Use of Detail. While this claim is made in paragraph 1 when the author says that the media cause " ways they rarely imagine, " it's given no support before the author moves on to discussing leaks.

(C): Faulty Use of Detail. The author makes this claim in the end of the last paragraph, but provides no support.

(D): Faulty Use of Detail. This is a claim made in paragraph 1, again without support.

Strategy Point:

When looking for a claim supported by evidence, search for an answer choice that summarizes an entire paragraph. Claims not supported by evidence will usually be secondary claims that don't directly tie into the main points of the passage.


The passage suggests that press expos?s of the private thoughts of foreign officials do NOT result in U.S. leaders having a better grasp of foreign affairs because:

[A] U.S. leaders are already privy to the private thoughts of foreign leaders.
[B] foreign officials begin to view their American counterparts as untrustworthy.
[C] foreign officials do not reveal their secrets to the press.
[D] the information that reaches the press about policy discussions is unreliable.
Option: 2

Scan back in the passage to find the author's mention of foreign officials. The author argues in paragraph 2 that foreign officials fear leaks and are less inclined to speak their mind if they think that their private thoughts will be revealed. Therefore, it makes sense that foreign policy would be harmed because the foreign leaders would be less likely to confide in American officials. (B) summarizes this point.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. While this may or may not be true, the author is arguing that it certainly won't be true if leaks continue.

(C): Out of Scope. The author doesn't suggest that foreign officials would do this in the first place, and so it's an irrelevant hypothetical.

(D): Out of Scope. This isn't relevant to leaks of foreign officials' thoughts.


Based on the information in the passage, with which of the following statements would the author most likely agree?

[A] Feeding the public misinformation is warranted in certain situations.
[B] The public has a right to know the real state of foreign affairs.
[C] The fewer the number of people involved in policy discussions, the better.
[D] Leaders give up their right to privacy when they are elected.
Option: 1

Review the author's main arguments before looking for an answer choice that he's agree with. (A) recalls the author's point in paragraph 2: "Leaders often say one thing in public and something quite different in public conversation... " The author explains why this occurs—fear of media leaks—and clearly opposes such leaks. Therefore, the author must agree with (A)'s contention that misinformation is sometimes warranted.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. This is the opposite of (A); for the same reasons that (A) is a valid inference, (B) isn't.

(C): Opposite. The author argues in paragraph 3 that policy benefits from a "richness and variety of ideas. "

(D): Opposite. The author's point in decrying leaks is that privacy is a necessary component of leadership.

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