Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Wonderful World of Punditry

Jack Shafer's "You, Too, Can Be a TV Pundit!" is humorous because of how accurate it is.

His closing paragraphs, in particular, help to explain why think-tanks don't think, why pundits don't provided learned commentary (after all, that is the original meaning of the term, a wise or learned scholar), and why serious issues of the day don't get discussed:

"The booker will test your skills at assembling a one-sentence, easily digested sound-bite in the pre-interview. Treat the pre-interview as an audition for a part in a continuing TV drama, because it is. "Clinton was worse on this than Bush" or its opposite is a perfectly acceptable answer to almost any question. Don't try expressing an original thought on TV or otherwise upstaging the host, or he'll never invite you back. Remember, it's his show and you're just the replaceable talent.

"And no matter what you do, don't answer pre-interview questions with the preface, "It's very complicated." TV isn't the place for complicated discussions of politics. Save your learned dissertation for that 500-word newspaper op-ed you're hoping to place in USA Today."

It's why politicians jumped on the Iraq bandwagon (yes, Iraq was a threat, but the test of a true political leader is to differentiate between threats and know how to prioritize).

It is depressing because when interesting ideas (especially in foreign policy) emerge, if the spokesperson can't be easily "boxed" into a pre-existing category, then it is much harder for those ideas to emerge. But in an environment when people don't read or watch to learn but to have their own views reaffirmed, how to bring about change?

Michael Kinsley opines:

"The premise is that op-ed columns and other opinion pieces are not exercises in persuasion but simple counters: If you have more of them, you win. There is no room for the notion that reading something you disagree with might change your mind, or simply be more enjoyable than repeated ratifying of what you already believe.

"So, opinions are merely counters, and those counters are for sale. That's what I mean by the commodification of opinion."

Hope everyone enjoyed the debate we hosted last week--I think you had genuine opinions and genuine disagreements, not manufactured Springer-esque shouting matches.

The debate on paid punditry is quite interesting. Free Market News had the following commentary on the ongoing Bandow saga.

I found some of the comments interesting. Lew Rockwell rhetorically asks:

"So we are supposed to believe that it is evil for one columnist to take a few thousand but perfectly okay for a newspaper publisher to pay a think tank millions to then pay an intellectual who then writes for the newspaper?"

Jim Babka strikes at the real heart of the issue of punditry: "Doug Bandow wasn't working for free. Neither am I. Nor is anyone who works for Brookings, Heritage, American Enterprise, Reason, etc. Better columnists get paid to write their opinions."
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