Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stewart Nails The Issue to the Wall

Jon Stewart's recent piece on "Pundits" has pretty much nailed the issue right on the head.

The issue is the confusing practice of news organizations that mix "news" with "commentary". The general population wants commentary but needs, at the end of the day, the news. People like Bill O'Reily, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage all have similar attack profiles -- they call people names, attack people from their bully pulpits, scream over dialog and are overly emotionally angry while not really making a whole lot of sense.

Or rather, they make sense by appealing to people's emotions while not addressing the world from an objective point of view. This is where it gets hairy. I've got some good friends that seem to otherwise function well (they have logic circuits, in other words), but cannot get "un-fixated" by people in the aforementioned list.

They somehow have missed the fact that regardless of the opinions these people are expressing -- for one, they're not telling the news (but are parading around as journalists) and for two -- they're doing it in a way that doesn't help build consensus. Sure, they maintain consensus among their target demographic (conservatives in the cases mentioned here -- but I could have just as easily mentioned Keith Oberman), but they don't convey new information to people that don't understand the issues from their (albeit obviously) slanted point of view.

Our country is not united right now. It has a big rift in it between "left and right". Pundits mentioned here, in my not-so-humble (pundit-like) opinion, are doing serious damage by preaching loudly and emotionally to the choir. For sure there are times to rally the troops against issues that need support. The people that take this role should make it clear that they're not being journalists. The people that do this kind of rallying should be attacking problems -- not spreading descent. The deficit is a problem. Terrorism is a problem. The financial crisis is a problem.

Liberals or Conservatives: These are points of view. They are not "problems". Pick up (and then put down, quickly) the kind of tripe Ann Coulter prints in her books (or Savage -- similar work) -- you will see that you can barely find a page where she doesn't schpew liberal hate-speech like a Nazi at a war rally.

You read a lot of print about the recent loss by the RNC. To me it's obvious. They lost their centrist (read: non-polarizing) base when they embraced people like Rush and Ann. By accepting this kind of crap as OK "dialog", they lost a lot of people. When you listen to Colin Powell's breakdown of what drove him to endorse Barak Obama, he mentions listening to Sarah Palin talk about "Small Town Values". He then, not so casually, mentions that he didn't grow up in that kind of a neighborhood.

I know a lot of people probably think that Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter are not related entities. I urge you to imagine a universe where the kind of hate speech that Ann, O'Reily and Savage talk is not toleraged by the RNC. With that missing in the backdrop, possibly Colin Powell would have felt just a bit more comfortable in his own party.

This is an obvious simplification, but overall I think Fox has unwittingly helped the Democrats by polarizing the right so clearly with "Pundits" that shout ideas rather than hold clear dialog. This in turn scared people into action. It caused a clear break for some and earned the disgust and disrespect of the intellectual base in our country. The shouting down of ideas and opinions, in my opinion, bled over into the McCain/Palin campaign.

Near the end of the McCain campaign I think he got the message. There was an obvious attempt to stop the anti-Obama train and go for the pro-McCain message of conservative change. Unfortunately for the RNC, this came way too late in the game to make a difference. People are tired of negative shouting -- they want positive dialog. In the long run, any constructive aspect of their party will demand constructive dialog as a base.

Look the popularity of Mike Huckabee in this context. This isn't an accident -- Mike, love him or hate him, actually listens to people and does this thing called "dialog" that is sadly missing in the Pundit space these days. It's a sad commentary on the Republican party that he didn't fare well in the race for the Presidential nominee. It's a sadder commentary that he has better interviewing skills than any of the Pundits listed in this article so far.

You have to give Jon Stewart credit -- the Pundit problem is clarified by the piece (linked above). As a clear "non-journalist" too, he does a remarkable job of illustrating the facts. Another piece of irony in this context. Gotta love it.

When the RNC finally picks up on this they will finally be able to rebuild the backbone of their base and we will possibly see the balance of power restored in America.

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