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You, too, can be a pundit.

While watching TV on Sunday morning, with cream cheese on your bathrobe and your hair looking like a squirrel's nest, do you ever think, "Hey, I could be a pundit"? Well, after the required stops in make-up and wardrobe, you could. You don't have to know anything about anything. But there are a few rules.

You have to be real good at vague, content-free assessments and far-fetched, irrelevant predictions. You need to focus on the imagery of events, not their substance. You must sound emphatic and exude total certitude. And, whenever possible, you should buy into the conservative framing of topics and events. Let's see how it works.

Confused and dispirited about Bosnia? Still don't really grasp the politics or possible solutions? Not to worry--here's how old pro Morton Kondracke handles this one on The McLaughlin Group. "Just for once I'd like to see all-out bombing and see what it does." See? Tres simple. Just like at your local bar.

Now, on to the Waco hearings. How would you respond to John McLaughlin when he asks whether Janet Reno will have to leave office as a result of the Waco hearings which, of course, have only just begun? If you can ignore the fact that this is a totally stupid question and are prepared to say, "Not a snowball's chance in hell," you are definitely pundit material.

Over on Meet the Press, where a recent topic was race relations and affirmative action, you would be expected to hold forth about the decline of values in America (a perennial favorite with the pundits). You would need to hold your own against Representative J.C. Watts Jr., Republican of Oklahoma, who opined that "Martin Luther King never talked about race," and asserted that "we've lost our ability to get along, to love each other." See, as long as you don't know much about history and have memorized a few Hallmark cards, you're golden.

Watts was nicely complemented by talk-show regular, intellectual heavyweight, and Iron John graduate Bill Bennett, who gave some more heft to the discussion by adding, "Values can't come from government ... they have to come from fathers and churches," and "I think what happens on TV, in the movies, and on radio ... has more to do with the future of this country than the public policies we are discussing here."

Now, no one ever has to back up stuff like this, and since there were no female panelists, there were no pesky women around to challenge Bennett on his paean to patriarchy.

Once in a while, a spoilsport like Kweisi Mfume, Democrat of Maryland, or Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey, gets on a show like this and suggests that economic facts, especially about discrimination, might alter the debate. After fifty-five minutes of the usual "we-must-strengthen-the-family" drivel (time for national distribution of barbells), Bradley, looking like he'd been sucking on a persimmon way too long, suggested that the real problem in America was "inadequate economic growth, unfairly shared" and that there was "no way to separate someone's earning power from their prospects for life." Moderator Tim Russert stopped this insight dead in its tracks by shooting back, "But lack of a job is no substitute for lack of values!" If you can come up with nonsensical comments like this one, you could even host your own show.

The other important thing to know about being a pundit is that you can and should ignore all facts that don't fit in with your point of view. Take George Will and the topic of defense spending. Two days after the General Accounting Office revealed that the B-2 bomber (estimated cost: $44.4 billion for twenty of them) has radar that can't tell the difference between a rain cloud and the Matterhorn and is plagued by other design flaws as well, Will published his impassioned column, "The Case for Defense Spending." No mention is made of any specific programs or weapons, but there are quotes from Henry Kissinger. See, if you're a pundit of Will's stature, it's beneath you to mess with grimy details. You just go on about human nature and the inevitability of war. Just like at your dinner table after too much cheap Chardonnay.

Now, here's something I haven't mentioned yet about being a pundit. It's almost essential that you be male and pale, and equally essential that you ignore, ridicule, or eradicate female concerns and politics. It helps tremendously if you couple this with racebaiting. The recent affirmative-action debates offer an excellent case study.

Women, whom you may recall used to not get into graduate schools, corporate board rooms, or police uniforms, have had their opportunities, and thus their lives, transformed by affirmative action. Since I'm not a pundit, I'll give you a few facts. The number of women accepted to medical school has more than doubled since 1973. The number of women directors on Fortune 1000 boards went from forty-six in 1969 to 426 in 1988. The number of women in the armed services has quadrupled since 1973. You get the idea.

But almost nowhere is gender mentioned in the recent controversy. This is because Republicans don't want to alienate working women. And they have been allowed to set the terms of the debate. Like lemmings, most pundits have followed Pete Wilson's race-baiting references to "tribalism." Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic, wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times that affirmative action was designed for one group alone--African Americans--and they don't need it anymore. Barry Schweid on Washington Week in Review cast it as "giving blacks a little bit of a break."

But your real role model here should be Michael Barone, occasional pundit on The McLaughlin Group. Ignoring history, the law, current public-opinion polls, and, of course, women, Barone asserted that "the whole essence of affirmative action is quotas--you either count by race or you don't." Have you ever heard anything dumber? When white people wouldn't let black people into movie theaters, public schools, white colleges, law firms, businesses, or hospitals, were white people counting by race or not?

If you are innocent of logic, ignorant about how much of the country lives and works, inarticulate, a closet racist, a male chauvinist, and a sucker for conservative sophistry, punditry may be for you. But scrape the cream cheese off your front before circulating the old resume. Even Fred Barnes can't walk out looking like that.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Pundit Watch; so-called pundits
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Words:1072
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