Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Saddest C-Span Show.

Maybe I shouldn't have expected much. On C-Span this evening, I was treated to a repeat broadcast of "Wag the Debate: What's the Future of the Pundit?" from the US Comedy Arts Festival. The panel consisted of: Eric (MSNBC correspondant and author), Joe Lockhart (Clinton Press Secretary), Laura Ingraham (conservative radio), Janeane Garofalo (Air America Radio), "right-leaning comedian" Sheryl Underwood (of whom I'd never heard and who stole the show in an entirely unproductive fashion), Ben Karlin (executive producer of "The Daily Show"). The panel was moderated by the useless and grandstanding Joe Scarborough, of MSNBC's "Scarborough County." I'm relying, by the way, for spelling and gossip on a cached "Reliable Source" article.

It was a sad, dreadful showing, and I blame Scarborough. As moderator, he set the tone, and the tone was to allow everyone to interrupt and nobody to finish a point. He hammed for the audience (which generally asked much better questions than he did); he denigrated everyone on the panel; he simultenously managed to turn the discussion into a scoring match while stentorously proffering the opinion that a plurality of opinions was a good sign of democracy. I've never seen the guy's show, but I'm pretty sure that he's bad for America, as they say.

Janeane Garofalo looked disgusted by the goings-on, and I must say I agree with her expression. She didn't manage to get any good points in, what she did manage to say was more positioned than expressive, but her visible horror at the direction of the panel's discussion spoke better to my interests than any of the audible arguments.

And the saddest thing about this panel was that most people on it seemed to agree that journalism has become more he-said, she-said than ever before! (Of course that utter ass Scarborough would take he-said, she-said as a plurality of opinion, and beneficial for democracy. I can't help wishing that he find some overwhelming reason to spend more time with his family.) It was the ultimate exercise in pomo silliness, in which everyone agreed that the dominant paradigm of discourse was flawed and yet they reinscribed it insistently, without being able to restrain themselves, without being restrained, playing to the spectacular, disappointing every political or epistemological hope of this audience-member. It was more like those godawful French variety shows, where "personalities" trot out and give stock opinions to a Live Studio Audience, than like any serious panel, conference, or political meeting.

Thanks, C-SPAN. Thanks, especially, to the miserable Joe Scarborough. And Sheryl Underwood, I agree with you that such a panel would do better with more minority participants. Your behavior didn't really advance your cause, however, and I would argue that it helped the moderator destroy any seriousness this panel could have hoped for.

And there is a real discussion to be had on this topic. "The Daily Show" has shown a larger audience what impact political comedy can have on the old-fashioned punditry. The Onion, alarmingly enough, was more accurate than the New York Times about the arguments during the run-up to the war. Liberals felt sufficiently shut out of political dialogue that they set up an "entertainment"-style radio network to combat right-wing "entertainers" like Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, and Laura Ingraham.

"Real" news outlets who want to maintain widespread credibility in a more diverse media landscape and who want to retain privileged access to important people (all of whom are now Republicans) have to present "balanced" reports. Increasingly, these "balanced" accounts sound like two absolutely different world-views colliding, or rather, the Republicans and Democrats present basic facts in such starkly contrasting ways that unless the readers have already decided what they think, the he-said, she-said presentation is literally incomprehensible. The pundits are the worst incarnation of this problem: the Op-Ed pages consider themselves to be under no obligation to issue corrections, but the columnists have attained their positions by their reputations and continue to have real influence despite the necessary speed of their dispatches. The role of the pundit deserves more serious scrutiny. Good heavens, someone like William Safire, who brags of his connection to and channels practically unfiltered Ariel Sharon, should be subject to a fact check, at least!

Much of the new media--cable news as well as the blogosphere--tends to be of the punditry school: we all have opinions, and increasingly, we also all have a soapbox. I'm an academic; that which I offer to my academic peers, I'll stand behind or correct, according to the criticism of my peers. Here, I can offer anything whatsoever. I'm anonymous, nobody's reading me, it all seems awfully safe. Okay, but what if--unlikely enough--my blog should get the traffic of Atrios and my name should be revealed? I imagine that most redblooded Americans would make the logical calculation: my name is known, I'm famous, I'm making money, people agree with me--I'm a professional pundit! Maybe, in such a case, the People would have spoken, but that wouldn't really make me any more right, per se. And that's what serious journalists have to resist. It'll be hard: the money and security seem to be in wankery. But it's really, really important that journalists resist the lure.


Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes:

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12/27/2005 02:39:00 PM  

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