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TV Pundits Lack Critical Thinking

September 11, 2008

By Bill Mann

‘BAD QUESTIONS. Bad media. Bad.” Down, boy.

In case you missed it, that’s an excerpt from Roger Simon’s funny but serious piece posted on Politico.com from the GOP national convention.

He was following up on VP nominee Sarah Palin’s silly comments bashing the media. This coming from someone who’d been sequestered from the media the week before her overrated speech, from someone who will avoid the press in the two months ahead.

With the media, especially the cable news nets, sometimes looking more like an adjunct of show business than journalism today, Simon’s comments came at a propitious time. With Americans now getting most of their news from TV, it’s a critical time for broadcast journalism to step up to the plate.

Simon, an occasional commentator on CNN and MSNBC’s political panels, wrote ironically, “We asked questions we never should have asked. It is not our job to ask questions. To hear from the polls at the Republican convention this week, our job is to support and endorse the decisions of the polls.”

It’s not just time for actual reporting from broadcast journalists, it’s also time to revive a quaint tradition called critical thinking, something notably lacking from the punditry these days.

If you’d switched around the networks, cable and broadcast, after Palin’s introductory/acceptance speech in Minnesota last week, you’d have thought we’d just watched a cross between the Gettysburg Address and William Jennings Bryan’s fiery “Cross of Gold” speech. “Brilliant. Superb. A tremendous speech” came the plaudits from the likes of Chris Matthews.

No, it wasn’t, and I could find only one commentator with the insight — or good judgment — to say so: CNN’s estimable Jeffrey Toobin. In fairness, Toobin said the same thing about Barrack Obama’s acceptance speech the week before — that it was OK, but not one of his best.

Two days before Palin’s “hockey Mom” speech, Ron Reagan Jr. nailed it on an Air America broadcast from the convention.

“She’s going to give a good speech,” the liberal commentator predicted. “She’s not going to fall on her face like a lot of Democrats are probably expecting or hoping.” And Reagan was right. But that didn’t make it a Marc Antony speech either.

Whither critical thinking?

I bring this up because going into the home stretch of this long campaign, this is no place for timidity or flattery. “Sarah Palin,” wrote Simon, “thinks the media should report only on what is good for her campaign. That is our job,’ he added slyly, “and that is our duty. If that is not in the Constitution, it should be. (And someday may be).”

Simon continued, “The unofficial theme of the convention was: ‘The media are really, really awful.”

Exactly why, one wonders, are the GOP and conservatives complaining? They already have their own 24-hour cable network, Fox News, a powerful megaphone, as well as hundreds of right-wing talk radio stations, usually with two or more in major markets (like KNEW and KSFO here).

They want them all, I can only guess. The media as lapdog.

Watch Your Back, Pat: My favorite media moments of the conventions were in Denver, where MSNBC’s top conservative pundit, conversation-dominator Pat Buchanan, had to deal with an actual live audience.

I loved watching Buchanan, no longer hermetically sealed in a New York studio, as the crowd behind him — where the show was being heard live — would boo him lustily when he said something absurd. Each time this happened, Buchanan would flinch. Poor Pat looked like someone was popping paper bags just behind him. Vox populi as television comedy.

Bill Mann’s column runs every other week. Reach him at newsmann@mannpublications.org.

Originally published by Bill Mann , Columnist.

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