Tag Archives: Punditry

Outrageous, egregious, preposterous


I’ve long maintained that there is a fallacy gap between right and left.  Major right-leaning pundits (Will, Krauthammer, Brooks, and the legions of Am Spec bloggers) far exceed left-leaning pundits (Krugman, E.J.Dionne, and who else is there?) in basic philosophy 101-style argumentative terribleness.

The only evidence I have is my unscientific observations over the past nine or so years.  For some, this view cannot possibly be correct, since “both sides do it” is a logical and metaphysical fact.  It isn’t.  But the fact that most people think this forces any treatment of fallacies, over-the-top rhetoric, etc., to insist on a balance which isn’t there.  Provide your own examples.

Now there is some, but only some, empirical support for my thesis.  Professors  Jeffrey Berry (Political Science) and Sarah Sobieraj (Sociology) of Tufts have written The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility, which takes an empirical perspective on over-the-top political rhetoric.  In an article in Politico, they write:

That said, the data from our analysis still show that the liberal outrage media is no match for the conservative side. Looking at low levels of outrage—say, two to five incidents per episode—we found that left- and right-leaning programs and blogs were roughly equal. However, as the number of outrage incidents per episode or post increased, the source was more and more likely to be conservative. This is most visible at the far end of the spectrum: The most outrageous cases (with 50 or more incidents per episode or post) come almost exclusively from conservative sources.

The outrage measure is itself kind of an interesting notion. But I’ll leave that for another time. In the meantime, check out the article (see if you can spot the balance-mongering!), and the book.

How to tell when you’re a complete hack

Here's New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait on conservative cheerleader John Podhoretz:

The first few weeks after a losing presidential election are an awkward period for the most devoted ideological polemicist. Months of optimistic spin about your candidate must be cast aside for an entirely different sort of spin — where before the candidate was a budding juggernaut boldly carrying the party banner onward to victory, now we can see in hindsight that he was a hapless loser unable to articulate our side’s clearly winning vision. Transitioning from one line to another can often take months of careful tip-toeing. Commentary editor John Podhoretz offers up a magisterial postelection essay, “The Way Forward,” that instead simply takes the full plunge all at once.

Read the whole essay.  Very entertaining.  Here's the punchline:

The preelection Podhoretz was perfectly willing to credit any potential Obama victory, however unlikely, to his policy agenda:

if he loses on Nov. 6, he will lose for the same reason he would have won — because of his very real, very substantial, and very consequential achievements.

The postelection Podhoretz asserts that Obama’s win was “an astonishing technical accomplishment but in no way whatsoever a substantive one.” In no way whatsoever. Onward to victory in 2016, comrades!

It's an accountability free profession.


What it takes to be a pundit

Outsourcing this week's blogging to Gawker.  Speaking of the value of political punditry, Hamilton Nolan writes:

But whereas the sports world, for example, boasts a class of professional commentators that have a legitimate claim to their positions—Jon Gruden can offer more genuine insight into football than your drunk friend in the Packers jersey—the same cannot be said for politics. The political commentator class is, for the most part, little more than a bunch of regular people like you and me who were lucky enough to land jobs writing down their thoughts on politics for money. It's not that there aren't truly insightful political experts in the world. Professional political strategists know tons about how elections are won, and philosophers and political science professors and economists at universities across the country can all offer fascinating and sagacious arguments on how and why various political positions are justified. But, with a handful of notable exceptions, these are not the types of people who compose our nation's political pundit class. Our political pundits are mostly just spitballing. You might as well just listen to yourself.

I'd take issue with the "regular people part."  Being charitable, I gather Nolan means "people with no special qualifications."  But that's not really true either.  They need to be confident that they have something to say.  And they need, most of all, to be immune from the tons of relevant, accurate, and devastating criticism.  That's what it takes.

The weekender

In a lot ways the pseudo-reasonable ramblings of David Brooks inspired our work here.  It's a pleasure, then, to see our analysis echoed by others:

There is no pleasure for the pundit quite like the neat, clear-edged dichotomy. I have felt these pleasures myself. But few columnists fall for it quite as regularly as The New York Times' David Brooks, for which it seems to provide a sense of order and clarity in a messy world always hurtling toward chaos. Today Brooks tackles a fascinating theme in economics: the notion of mechanical policies or solutions to what ails us. The irony here is that Brooks' dichotomy, which the Times headlines "Two Cultures" in a glib reference to C.P. Snow's now ancient (and glib) dichotomy between science and the humanities, is as clankingly mechanical as the mechanistic tendencies he claims as the province of dreaded liberal technocrats.

Here's David Brooks from 2004 (see here):

There are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don’t shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats.

New York Times–the breadth of reporting, the insight.  I think I might order up the Weekender (click this link–hilarious).  Now in case one is inclined to object that it's hard to write a 750 word op-ed twice a week, I'll agree with you.  It probably is hard to come up with something engaging, refreshing, and enlightening.  But if this is what you come up with, then, maybe, paraphrasing Kant here, "metaphysics punditry isn't for you." 



Plato on Sophistry

From the Meno:

How could that a mender of old shoes, or patcher up of clothes, who made the shoes or clothes worse than he received them, could not have remained thirty days undetected, and would very soon have starved; whereas during more than forty years, Protagoras was corrupting all Hellas, and sending his disciples from him worse than he received them, and he was never found out. For, if I am not mistaken,-he was about seventy years old at his death, forty of which were spent in the practice of his profession; and during all that time he had a good reputation, which to this day he retains: and not only Protagoras, but many others are well spoken of; some who lived before him, and others who are still living. Now, when you say that they deceived and corrupted the youth, are they to be supposed to have corrupted them consciously or unconsciously? Can those who were deemed by many to be the wisest men of Hellas have been out of their minds?

Made me think of Bill Kristol et alia.

The power of ideas

David Brooks, conservative columnist and former Bush sycophant, yesterday:

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

Gee, who would scorn ideas?  Maybe the David Brooks, court flatterer of Bush's Versailles era [October 2, 2004]:

When John Kerry was asked how he would prevent another attack like 9/11, he reeled off a list of nine concrete policy areas, ranging from intelligence reform to training Iraqi troops, but his answer had no thematic summation. If you glance down a transcript of the debate and you see one set of answers that talks about “logistical capacity” or “a plan that I’ve laid out in four points,” or “a long list” of proposals or “a strict series of things” that need to be done, you know that’s Kerry speaking. [emphasis added] 

Ideas are so boring!  Concrete policy!  Snore.  Contrast this with Bush [following directly from the same October 2, 2004 op-ed]:

If, on the other hand, you see an answer that says, “When we give our word, we will keep our word,” you know that is Bush. When you see someone talking about crying with a war widow, you know that’s Bush.

Bush had no ideas then either, and it seems Brooks knew it.  But then it was a virtue.  Now it obviously isn't.  My only question is why it took Brooks so long to learn this. 

In a related matter, I'm happy to be wrong about the right wing pundit army marching lockstep with their guy, however bad his arguments.  This was true with Bush until just recently.  The only disagreements (uttered sotto voce) were that he was not conservative enough.  Now to the growing chorus of right wing pundits who reject McCain for reasons other than sufficient rightwardness, a group which includes George Will, Kathleen Parker, and to some extent Charles Krauthammer, one can perhaps now definitively add David Brooks.   

It’s pronounced Nuke-You-Ler

Let's consider this an open thread for debate discussion.  

I'd agree with these two that the unwatchable thing for me about the post-debate discussion is the pundits' obsession with what they think people will think.  To do that they have to assume much about what people will think–namely whether people will swoon over the "youbetchyas" and the winks and so forth.  And they generally assume they will.  That means they think you're stupid. 

Other than this general observation, I think I've actually had arguments with people like Sarah Palin.  One can't really have a discussion with someone who can't understand your view, how maliciously distorts her misunderstanding of it, refuses to address any challenges, and considers all criticism to be directed at her and her lovely family (and by extension everyone like her).