by Eileen | 8:52 am, February 28, 2013 | Comments Off
Pundits are paid to deliver simplistic and repetitious talking points to an already sympathetic audience. Whether or not they’re wildly intelligent, it’s not in the job description to display that. A pundit is supposed to hold strong opinions, regardless of her own expertise and without consideration of how realistic her predictions are. Then, when she’s wrong, she goes back on the program and explains how it wasn’t her fault. This pattern was painfully demonstrated by Fox and its unfounded certainty that Romney would win last fall, complete with childish refusal to admit both that the election was over and that they’d gotten it all wrong.
To paraphrase Shaw, if you make people believe they’re thinking they’ll adore you. But if you actually do make them think, they’ll be out for your blood. Any good pundit knows that.
Pundits say what their core audience wants to hear, scream at and cut off anyone from the other side, occasionally go on the other side’s show and enduring being the one screamed at – this last stunt is commonly referred to as building bipartisan consensus and a good pundit will prattle on about how fearlessly she ventures forth to beard the lion in his den. Screaming at people with whom you disagree and rolling your eyes the entire time someone else is talking are the stand-ins for an actual reasoned and intelligent refutation of your opponents arguments.
A pundit does not inform. A pundit coddles people who do not care to hear anything challenging. A great pundit convinces people they are hearing really challenging and deep stuff when she’s only reinforcing what the polling tells her are the already held opinions of her core audience.
Clearly, I don’t like the ranks of people who bounce from radio station to morning show couch to overpacked auditorium and spill their asses of their mouths.
Hell, I don’t like that politics are set up such that schmoozing is the single most fungible talent. I think that one thing is the single biggest reason the best people find some other way to earn a living.
Talking heads don’t really any service to the movement faithful. They tell people whatever those people want to hear. Quite often, they don’t believe what they say. Remember, I’m not saying the pundits aren’t smart and educated people. I’m saying they’re chasing a paycheck even to the exclusion of speaking honestly or taking the risk of leaving the audience provoked and a little unsettled. At the most charitable, a pundit is a de facto party employee whose sole job is to keep the base fired up and ready to work on whatever project the party has ordained.
But that treats people as if they only contribution they can make is to stuff envelopes and votes as they’re told to. Republicans are the worse offenders when it comes to wasting the human talent out there, but it’s certainly a bipartisan phenomenon.
Spewing nonsense to placate people and keep them in your thrall is a short-term winner, and the conservatives are paying dearly for a generation of pursuing short-term policies. That they are still peddling snake oil and swarm is the reason I wake up in the middle of the night and think very carefully about moving to an uncharted island where I will grow papayas and learn the language of the local monkeys.
I go into one of these irate funks whenever I get exposed to pundits and their tragically credulous audience. It’s gutting to listen to some varnished and managed stock character giggle about how much she gets paid to give speeches where she doesn’t believe a word of what she says and then watch her bounce off to recite her lines to people who made a point of coming to listen to her because they believe she both knows what she’s talking about and believes what she says.
Truly, if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.
I am, in my humane moments, willing to concede there is a role for the rah-rah speeches. Political work is fatiguing and people have a real need of the booster shots. Telling people that liberty and the free market are still worth fighting for is one thing. Telling people that the GOP is on track to take the Senate in 2014 and the Oval Office in 2016 is execrable, especially when it’s done as a prelude to prying private information out of them and cajoling them into writing the big checks.
Anyone who tells that the only barrier to a right-wing resurgence is you is a liar. Go ahead with the 100-item checklist and the $100 check if you like, but I think you’re feeding a broken machine.
Categorically and unqualifiedly, the most dangerous talkers are the ones who preface their remarks by swearing you’re about to hear the unvarnished truth, who position themselves as unrepentant renegades. Here’s why. Someone who truly is going to be painfully honest with you doesn’t feel compelled to assure you of her intentions. Someone who is a well-compensated movement insider making the lecture circuit is most emphatically not a maverick or an apostate. I say, get away from those people. Nothing announces, ‘I am about to lie my ass off to you guys’ more reliably than, ‘Tonight, you will hear on the the truth from me.’
If the people who listen to the chattering class knew how profoundly screwed the GOP is, how little real work is being done to change that, and how insincere most of the public faces of Republican-dom are, the money would dry up. I’m all for that. So long as data and dollars are still flowing into party coffers, the impetus for reform in insufficiently strong.
This started off an a commentary on a neat little piece over at The Atlantic about the most common mistakes pundits make. I don’t think those are mistakes; they’re well-honed tactics to accomplish the desired end. And I immediately noticed that all the ‘false assumptions’ are instances of partisan insiders blaming voters and non-politically active citizens for things that are either not even problems or that may be laid at the feet of political parties and their candidates.
The article itself summarizes a freely available scholarly piece by political scientists Morris Fiorina, “If I Could Hold a Seminar for Political Journalists…“, the abstract of which readily concedes that political journalists say things they know aren’t true. I’d recommend taking a look; it’s a quick and easy read with some worthy ideas.
Dr. Fiorina’s conclusion is more optimistic that the position I occupy these days, but I can certainly agree with his reasoning and the data underlying it. Voters are not stupid; they are rationally ignorant. If they avoid politics as much as possible, it’s because the political machines minimizes the impact they might have and because the political professionals are largely unpleasant, if not terrible, people:
To be sure, voters are generally uninformed, and many try to avoid politics until the imminent approach of election day makes it impossible. Yet the collective electorate manifests a degree of knowledge and wisdom that gives those of us who have studied that electorate for decades some cause for optimism. If only I could say as much about the knowledge and wisdom of the political class.
I think that’s rather a nice place to wind up. I think the average American, weighing political choices, should bypass those who are so certain of how you ought to vote and who you ought to support and instead actually seek out information presented without slant and without the assumption that you’re a fool.
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