Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chris Matthews, Ann Coulter, and the Debasement of Punditocracy

For complex psychological reasons, most of us prefer to believe that the grownups are in charge. The people who make decisions that can alter our lives are somehow more wise, better informed, and capable of major decisions than the rest of us. It's a comforting notion. My CEO is an insightful captain of industry. My Senator is a sage man, and when I disagree with him, he probably has more knowledge than I do. George Bush is far smarter than we are led to believe, and the White House is packed with the smartest people from the greatest institutions. Aunt Mable's cat died because God called Fluffy to heaven. Secretly, we all insist on believing that our universe is ordered and merit-based. It may not be the most democratic notion, but it is entirely human.

One of the amusing and universal initial experiences for political junkies is meeting and getting to know a politician. It is always funny in a sad way to watch as someone progresses from "Oh my gosh! I'm shaking ______'s hand!" to "Is that all there is?". Most politicians, even at the state and national level, are no more impressive than your high school student council president. Many are less.

Years ago, it was nice to imagine that the land of political punditry was populated by giants. You might disagree with Buckley, but, damn, he was smart. Safire's wit and intellect were far superior than anything I or anybody I knew could muster. Smarter people than you and me set our national debate. It was a comforting notion.

It was a lie, though.

With today's increased access, we can see how shallow and intellectually ordinary the punditocracy really is. Sure, Buckley used to be impressive, but only once a month or so. Sure, Safire was a great read, but most of it was jacking around with word games. When we can see and read the pundits every week, or every day, we can see just how mistaken we were when we thought of them as giants.

Sadly, the shrinkage does not always stop there. If you hold your nose and don't react to what she is saying, you realize that people like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin aren't really even trying to engage your mind - they are paid good money to say stupid things and provoke a reaction. They are there to sell sizzle, not thought, and I'll admit to a peculiar admiration for their talent. I like to think that I would choose not to become famous and idolized by foolish people if I had the opportunity to do so by saying stupid things, but, if I were you, I wouldn't bet the farm on my superiority.

This transcript of pundits talking about whether Ann Coulter is hot, however, ought to dispel any lingering notion of pundits being better than the conversation you could find at any neighborhood bar. Seriously.
RITA COSBY: I'll throw it back to you, Chris, do you find her attractive?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: You guys are all afraid to answer. No, I find her—I wouldn't put her—well, she doesn't pass the Chris Matthews test.
Chris Matthews talking about whether he would do Ann Coulter. So offensive in so many ways. Such an exposure of the debasement of what we once thought was an elevated group of people.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happened to be watching MSNBC when that exchange about Coulter came up. Matthews initiated it and looked and acted like an ass for doing so. Nobody bit. Tucker Carlson was certainly not impressed as demonstrated by the quizzically disgusted look on his face which read "Matthews, have you been into the sauce again?"

I have a sister who always says shes going to vote for the best looking candidate regardless of the party, etc. The older I get, the more I'm beginning to think her theory works about as well as any of

6/15/2006 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grrr the above anonymous is travelingal who once again forgot to type in her name...

6/15/2006 9:52 AM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

AND AGAIN!! I think I'm going back to bed

6/15/2006 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Brooksider said...

Anymore I judge the Punditocracy by how they present their ideas. Do they use facts and/or emotions or maybe a combination? Do the want me to think or be emotional? Do they present reasonable perspectives or are they way out on the fringe? Are they interested in finding a solution or more interested in prolonging the issue?

For me, the worst type of pundit is the one obfuscating knowledge and reason with content-free ranting emotional tirades and personal attacks. They are trying to whip people up into an emotional frenzy and when people are in an emotional state they do not ‘think’. People are much easier to manipulate and much easier to distract when they are emotional.

And the very worst type of pundit is the one who inserts themselves above any meaningful discussion, Coulter being the best worst example. By presenting ridiculous harangues on stupefyingly irrelevant topics, then she becomes the topic of discussion and meaningful issues are ignored while valuable time is wasted.

BUT, and this is a big but…..valuable media time (mostly tv) is filled and profits are made, all under the guise of punditry, while actually focusing on personality. It is a media slight-of-hand. “Look! Bright and shiny people. But first, this commercial message.” They do it with Paris Hilton, Brad and Angelina, Barry Bonds and Scott Peterson. It is always emotional be it outlandish wealth, babies, sports or murder but the coverage is rarely about finding a solution and is often about self perpetuating further coverage for further profit.

Which brings us back to Ms Coulter. She becomes the story and the issues become secondary. And people like Matthews become media smoke screen enablers by bringing up irrelevant things like “Is she hot?” The only thing below that on the WTF Does It Have To Do With Anything scale would be anyone who answers “Yes”.

For more Punditocracy perspective see Eric Alterman’s book “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News”. He has 4 chapters on them; TV, Print, Radio and Internet, Experts and the World of Ideas.

6/15/2006 12:31 PM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Great points Brooksider.

And to close the loop you have people like us who watch, write about and discuss these so-called celebrities, helping them sell ads and books.

Welcome to the machine.

6/15/2006 5:16 PM  

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