Ah, cable news. We watch it so you don’t have to.
While some of the format can be truly informative, fascinating, and fun, by and large it is a genre marred by prefab partisan shoutfests, confirmation biases, manufactured outrage, breathless fear-mongering, flash-in-the-pan controversies, unabashed speculation, self-promotional blowhards, and bizarre gimmickry.
Allow us to suggest perhaps the biggest contributing factor to the problem: The all-purpose pundit.
The all-purpose pundit, as we see it, is the talking head that fills much of cable news’ airtime. He/she is the person hired by a network for their attractive face and/or their ability to speak well (sometimes in shrieking or shouting tones), while having either very narrow fields of expertise, or, more commonly, no relevant expertise whatsoever.
They are lead actors in the cable news echo chamber, coddling their viewers’ preconceived partisan beliefs by lobbing the most outlandish spitballs that neatly check off the various left- or right-wing talking points. All-purpose pundits deliver the steaming hot takes that no one asked for, yet are so goofily contrarian they simply cannot be ignored by bookers desperate for a hot new angle.
We here at Mediaite are looking for a hero; someone who will break the mold. How to do that? We can all start by learning the below six phrases and using them as often as possible. Sure, existing incentives make it impractical for these words to ever be uttered on cable news without a pundit seeing decreased bookings, but one can dream:
1) “Well, I’m not an expert in that field, so I don’t feel qualified to comment.”
To be fair, plenty of commentators make a living off discussing, writing about, and advocating for various policy measures. It’s possible to not be a four-star general but have something insightful to contribute to a conversation on something like foreign policy; but more often than not, it’s just the usual platitudinous pandering. As we know too well, being loud trumps being right.
All-purpose pundits are experts in furrowing their brows and feigning genuine concern over topics about which they once read an Internet column and/or message board. They may just be a handsome face with a degree in journalism or communications, but, alas, they feel compelled to give un-nuanced takes on very complex subjects. After all, saying the above phrase would almost assuredly guarantee you never again get booked on another time-killing variety panel.
2) “Oops, that was a dumb thing to say. I am sorry.”
All-purpose pundits are often narcissists. And with that desire to hear yourself speak at length comes the inability to distinguish between negative and positive attention.
Only after prolonged social media anger does the all-purpose pundit ever consider they were wrong. But that’s the exception. Most often you’ll never hear such an admission — only doubling down because that shiny red button for attention is so irresistible.
3) “I really only said that for attention.”
Speaking of narcissistic behavior, wouldn’t it would be lovely if a pundit were to simply admit they hyped up their own rhetoric as a device for garnering attention?
4) “I disagree with what you said, but I appreciate your perspective and concede there may be some truth in what you’ve said.”
Imagine a world where instead of spittle-flecked, crosstalk-littered arguments about the partisan nonsense du jour, cable news pundits had delightfully intelligent, forthright debates. In that world, talking heads would concede that on most complex political issues, the truth is often nuanced and therefore not digestible in snappy soundbites or dutifully performed on-air theatrics.
5) “That’s not funny.”
Simple law of nature: Pundits want to get booked more. The easiest way to secure a continued role? Ingratiate yourself to the anchor — constantly tell them they are “absolutely right,” or when they make a poor attempt at humor, let out a forced giggle anyway.
But rather than fake laughing when an unfunny host tries to be funny, we wish pundits would learn to say: “Nope. Not funny. Lame.” One show has that down pat, but that’s because its entire existence is wry comedy and pundits ragging on each other.
6) “We really shouldn’t speculate.”
Cable news outlets have a lot of hours to fill with new programming, and with that need for more words to take up more time comes endless speculation.
“This guy who murdered dozens of people no more than an hour ago? He seems to have been a tea partier,” said TV personality X. “No, I read he’s a registered Democrat, so he must’ve been influenced by liberalism!” replied personality Y. Or, better yet, “Maybe this inexplicable plane crash was caused by some intergalactic phenomenon!”
We’d save so much time on partisan faux-outrage stories.
More disclosure never hurt anyone.
(Kudos to HuffPost Live for a show like “Cocktail Chatter,” the anti-pundit punditry half-hour that openly involves drinking booze.)
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