Punditry is neither new nor is the star-power of those whose profession it is to tell you what to think. Many readers of this post remember William F. Buckley’s superb Firing Line, CNN’s middling Crossfire and McLaughlin’s curmudgeonly growls. But whereas these vanguards of the medium were relegated to bargain basement time slots, today’s pundit opinion makers are featured in prime time, often rinsed and repeated at a later hour and are then planted across social media’s never ending universe, shared and enjoyed for many moons far beyond their natural sell-by date.
The political class struggles to maintain ownership of their message as they are ordered back to the rear-facing third row of the king makers’ station wagon as Twitter and Facebook drives likes, tweets, and cross posts. Politicians can owe their entire campaign win or loss to whether they secure the good soldiers over at NBC or Fox, and the resulting ‘feels’ installed on readers' scrolling eyeballs while sitting on the toilet.
The impact of celebritizing pundits can be seen firsthand at the slew of political conventions that occur throughout the year. For example, #Politicon in Pasadena, the third year of a bi-partisan (yet still mostly liberal) group of attendees lined the convention halls with Comicon level zeal, but instead of cos-playing Star Wars, a large portion of the 10,000 attendees cried tears of hysteria when today’s Aristotle of political thought, Chelsea Handler walked into the hall. They came to see those who would give them hope, confidence and marching orders.
Convention attendees are more rock fan than political junkie. When Steve Forbes takes the stage at the Libertarian convention, Freedom Fest, the audience gushes in the presence of American royalty. When Dennis Prager hurls a killer rejoinder to fellow panelist David Frum, the crowd jumps to their feet like sports fans watching Tom Brady stun the Falcons with a miracle comeback.
The skinny dude behind us in a skull cap (a would-be doppelganger for Breaking Bad’s 50 year-old Jessie) must’ve recently graduated the Howard Dean School of Spontaneous Yells as he literally screamed in our ear for an hour whenever his side (Conservatives) said something worthy of his bellow. Yeah! Yeah!! YEAH!!!! ARGGGGHHHHH!
This isn’t your parents’ politics. Or is it? Ever watch the grainy convention coverage from FDR, Ike or Goldwater? Sure, they wore civilized hats and suits, but the passions were just as intense. Yet, Delegates were supporting a candidate; A hopeful office holder they would elect who could, in some small or large way, make actual change.
Now, the mystique and reverence for politicians are gone, partially due to the punditry class’s status anxiety, placing their own celebrity above real news. And celebrities they have become. While many more sophisticated voters won’t care what Rob Reiner, Cenk Uygur, Clay Aiken or any of these people have to say, these arbiters of truth can motivate a small portion of their base, that energizes voters, and possibly the world.
With great power comes great responsibility, yet the celebrity pundit media class exists in a bubble. Journalists are often times adulatory cheerleaders who missed the days when objectivity was taught in college, likely because their Lefty professors gave them permission to attend the #Resist rally.
At last weekends Politicon, while the Left and Right’s cavalcade of spokes holes appeared in front on throngs of partisans who whooped and hollered, hanging on every word, it was the Leftist former Obama staffers, Young Turks, and the plethora of MSNBC celebutants who seemed to have received most of the social media love.
And it’s no mystery why. Armed with a press pass, we ambled into the media room where we witnessed young bearded “journalists” desperately pegging out articles then fighting to upload their fawning brilliance via the molasses-speed wifi. Within minutes of Cenk and Ben’s “debate,” the partisan outlets would report ‘Cenk takes down Ben!’ or ‘Ben destroys Cenk!’ Neither happened. It was a civilized exercise in both sides spouting talking points, with the edge going to Shapiro for actually nailing facts, compared to Cenk’s sweeping classism and tired evil-corporation diatribe.
So what’s the problem with pundits having this sort of power? Well, potential candidates take notice … Good candidates. After all, which qualified, successful, smart and civic minded individual would now want to be filleted by Rachel or Sean, or worse, the 20 something neophytes whose woke sensibilities and lifetime of activist experience can shape and form reality through 140 characters on Twitter?
We all personally know a brilliant person who would rock the political stage if they caught a gust of Twitter wind or received Tucker’s adulation. But why would that person endure the daggers from basement-dwelling, neck bearded keyboard warriors that are today’s nattering nabobs of negativity?
Why would a talented free-market intellectual allow themselves and their family to be labeled racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted and every other pejorative?
Why would a moderate classic “L” liberal face the unhinged activist wing of their own party and be told that because you believe in traditional liberalism and question the “progressive” cause, you are anti-science, anti-women, or even worse if you’re Black, an Uncle Tom?
News today is primarily derived from our pre-selected nooks of the internet, and younger voters have learned limited history, much of which is revisionist.
For example, the aforementioned Politicon panel where Dennis Prager replied to David Frum’s point that ‘Trump was sexist because of his words, Dennis suggested the media gave a pass to Bill Clinton’s ACTUAL misogyny, ACTUAL reports of rape, and moral equivalence with making perjury about ‘sex’ a non-event.
That the Democrats had, in fact, enabled a man in the White House that did, in fact, abuse his power with a young woman barely out of childhood with… well, we all know what he did. But… barely a peep from the moral outrage police who now knit and wear pussy hats. (Hardened women and softish “men” filled the pussy hat booth where they were passionately knitting pink yarn in defiance of our look of disdain).
Prager’s response was a thing of beauty. Old Jessie (behind me) literally exploded, just leaving a skull cap and wisp of smoke on the well-traveled carpet.
I noticed a trio of young’ns who were actively cheering the liberal representation on the dais (the “conservative” David Frum… uh-huh) and the young woman in the group, mouth agape, looked around as people cheered Prager, only to ask her/his/ze's partner what was Dennis talking about?
Yup… this young 20 something had no clue as to Bill’s penchant for $1,000 Gurkha cigars. This can’t be true! Lies! She genuinely looked confused. Her ‘news’ source etched-a-sketched bad-Bill from her lesson plan. Dennis was making stuff up.
Instead, the yutes today learn from the personalities. The fan boys eagerly await Ann Coulter to ‘Sharon Stone’ her uncovered legs. The horned rimmed ze’s salivate over Rachel Maddow’s next Glenn Beck type rabbit-hole conspiracy. The audience laps it up, further motivated to spend their barista dollars on convention passes. The adoring fans will whoop and gush at every word while hissing and booing their political counterpart who has the audacity to have an opinion.
Jerry Springer’s got nothing on this.
This is the state of politics today. This is our media. And thousands rely on it as their sole source of becoming edumacated.
As Maddow said on election night. “You are awake by the way. You are not having a terrible, terrible dream. Also, you are not dead and haven’t gone to hell. This is your life now. This is us. This is our country. It’s real.”