Putting paid to pernicious pundits

By Martin Bosworth

A favorite hobby of mine (one which many in the blogosphere share) is bashing on overpaid, overprivileged “culture keepers” that somehow feel they have earned the right to dictate the common wisdom to we poor peons. Today’s candidate happens to be America’s second-favorite dry drunk, Christopher Hitchens:

“Virginia Tech is a non-story,” said the British-born Hitchens, who said he took his oath as a U.S. citizen earlier in the day. “There were no implications” of anything bigger, explained Hitchens, who compared the shootings to a “traffic accident.” When one editor suggested the massacre pushed gun control to the forefront of the American conversation, Hitchens argued that the laws in Virginia were adequate — shooting people is already illegal, Hitchens said.

I’m sure the 32 dead college kids and Virginia gov. Tim Kaine completely agree that the there was nothing significant about this and that the laws were adequate. Oh, wait…

Watching people like Hitchens, John “The Last Real Man” Derbyshire, and David Broder devolve into insane ranting and childish name-calling to maintain their names in the press is a living example of how a culture shifts. Before the advent of the blogosphere, people like these guys established themselves at the top of the pundit heap, a pecking order maintained through years of getting coffee for senior reporters, writing books most people don’t read, and establishing relationships based on either vacuous sycophancy or knee-jerk contrarianism. These guys are the sociopolitical equivalent of weathermen–they get paid (often absurd) sums of money to be wrong, constantly, all the time. Yet because of their “experience” and “credibility,” they get to relive the cycle over and over again.

Once the punditocracy was an aristocracy, built on relationships, connections, and the knowledge that “insiders” could maintain whatever worldview they wanted, no matter how disconnected from reality. But no longer. Now you constantly have to show and prove every time you speak, because there’s an army of writers out there who can dog you on every mistake you make–and can often do a better job of YOUR job.

Put more simply, why should I pay to read these people be wrong (and often vile), when I can get much better insights elsewhere, and for free?

The dethroning of Imus was a watershed for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that the time of the “gatekeepers” who claimed to represent “the average American” is coming to a close. There’s no such thing as the “average,” and they certainly don’t need anyone else to tell them that.

4 replies »

  1. I’m seeing Hitchens boot-stomped left and right here lately, and probably for very good reason. But I’ll always love him for saying this one thing: “…what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” That’s become something of a mantra for me of late as I try to deal with those who like to equate faith with fact.

    You’re right about the decline of the punditocracy, though. There aren’t many pay-fer pundits these days who are smarter than what I find online. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find anybody out there who’s more consistently dead-on than our own Dr. Denny, whose missive on the signal:noise ratio the other day is simply required reading.

  2. Sam,

    A stopped clock may be right twice a day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t throw it out. 😉

  3. He’s a dry drunk? And all this time I have been calling him whiskey-soaked. When did that rat stop drinking?

  4. I’ve been wondering about the creation and roll of the “pundit”; they’re alive and well on the Internet as well. All you need to be is a popular first-mover. Consider The Huffington Post, or Digg.

    I think the nature of punditry may be changing, but the very human need to have someone tell us what to think and believe will find a way …