Sunday, July 09, 2006

Punditry and the facts

I'm so tired of watching dueling spinmeisters on my tv. When's the last time you saw someone consulted on any of the issues who really tried to be objective? –who wasn’t vomiting forth talking points and playing party-defense like a linebacker?—and wasn’t getting away with it? (of course, I omit the only truly objective mainstream news outlet: NPR, which, of course, isn’t on tv. PBS has had its moments.)

The entire system is culpable here. Neither party thinks we have the attention span or the wherewithal to actually understand the issues, so all policy initiatives and stances are boiled down to a slogan and a smear, or they’re buried.

For the media’s part, a fight is always more attention-grabbing than an insightful, productive discussion, so they fulfill the role of the kid in junior high who said “did you hear Jason called you a fag?” and then stand back to watch. They have less and less interest in actually informing anyone, anyway--information would make us slightly more resistant to the fearmongering and infotainment that is their bread and butter. And maybe less likely to buy their sponsor's products.

Pundits and personalities have largely taken sides in the Washington all-out power struggle, which gets them lots of face-time (see above) and plenty of opportunities to plug their next book. It also ingratiates them to a party power elite, which I assume has its own perks.

All too often, it's not even a real contest of ideas--it’s all a dance. They know the other guy (and the host) is in the same game they are, and they know already what they’ll say. They all agree to worship the gods of charisma and showmanship, rather than wisdom or sorrow. And they agree to confine their conversations to the topics-of-the-day: those 4 or 5 issues that are temporarily somehow at the top of everyone’s agenda at once, until the president holds a press conference to change the subject. They spar, they smile, and they agree to disagree. Then the host says “when we come back…gas prices- are they too high?” immediately after which we are urged to by a Hummer.

So I sit there sometimes screaming at my tv: “that’s so misleading!” “That’s not what you said last year!” “That’s been debunked!” “that makes no sense!”, “you can’t possibly believe that!” and of course “you bald-faced, mothercountryfucking rat-bastard liar!” among other less kind things.

All cynicism about the media aside, there’s very little a show host, or any intellectual opponent, can do about much of the spinning (read “lying”) that goes on. They don’t have access to the facts at their fingertips to counter every warping of reality that comes out of people’s mouths. And, even if they do, there’s no arbiter: no matter how right one is, it’s still he said, she said. And the bell can’t be unrung.

So, now, having liberally cursed the darkness, I’m going to light a candle. My solution to this problem is a new talk show format:

Pop up Punditry!

Ever see MTV’s Pop up Video? Or Blind Date?

I Imagine watching Cheney on some show talking about how responsible the big oil companies really are, but with a thought bubble above his head: “I know cuz they’re all good buddies of mine…and the president…and the Saudis.” Or to have a streamer across the bottom saying “VP panders to special interests in 3..2..1” Or just a little animated Cheney head guzzling gas from the pump.

Established facts and unbiased statistics could be added to the screen at the appropriate times to support or contradict the speaker: “Actually, Iraq never attacked the U.S., 19 Saudis trained in Pakistan did”. Talking points could be pointed out as they are given (an inset picture of 3 other people saying the same line, “democrats want to cut and run”, one after the other. Logical flaws could be highlighted and simplifications could be stretched out to their logical conclusions. Current promises could be contrasted with past acts. A dollar sign covered banner could inform us about how much money a relevant interest group spent on someone’s campaign. The real-world implications of knee jerk positions could be depicted (like war casualties when someone hypes military action). Like having The Daily Show's Jon Stewart sitting next to you while you watch.

I’m sure you could find a way to do it so it’s fair and not mean spirited, although I’m not sure I’m the one to do that in my present mood. I honestly think the Washington community are such media-crackwhores that they’ll jump at the chance to do such a show, even if they were made to look foolish. How could that show not get ratings?!? It might even force them to be considered, factual, and consistent. But maybe not.

If you’ve got any pop-up punditry fantasies, share them.


At 11:38 AM, Blogger Drek said...

That is a fantastic idea! We've seen some small moves in that direction with live blogging, but I don't think the reach is enough.

I wonder if someone could pitch this to Comedy Central?

Personally, I'd love to see Jerry Falwell or Wild Bill Dembski on such a program.


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