The Decline of TV Political News

Stuart Rothenberg, one of the nation’s preeminent pollsters has a scathing indictment of the current state of TV political coverage. Rather than providing an opportunity for viewers to get a wide range of opinions, TV political coverage is now largely about attracting the most rabid partisans:

Chris Matthews is a smart, politically astute observer of politics, but my last appearance convinced me that “Hardball” has evolved from a straight political news program with quality guests to one that has more in common with its network’s prime-time slant. Like most of the evening programming on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, “Hardball” has become a partisan, heavily ideological sledgehammer clearly intended to beat up one party and one point of view.

During the show on which I appeared, Matthews referred more than once to Republicans as “Luddites” and took every opportunity imaginable to portray them as crackpots. The show’s topics inevitably pander to the most liberal Democratic viewers and present Republicans and conservatives in the least flattering of terms.

I don’t mean to single out Matthews for criticism because he actually understands politics and I believe that he would prefer to do a serious political show. Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the newest addition to MSNBC’s unfortunate lineup, Ed Schultz, are far worse than “Hardball.”

The reality is that TV news is based around appealing to the lowest common denominator—and there are a dwindling number of worthwhile TV news programs available. For example, while FOX is famous for the blowhards Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, they do have some very good straight political coverage and Brit Hume’s nightly show was one of the best in the industry. However, their bread-and-butter was in “opinion journalism” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). FOX had good political coverage, and for all their supposed conservative bias they did a good job of reporting on serious matters as well.

MSNBC, however, decided to become a cargo-cult version of FOX News with a leftward tilt. They managed to find an ego as big as Bill O’Reilly’s with an even bigger chip on his shoulder in the form of Keith Olbermann. Olbermann has all the tact and grace of a rabid pit-bull that just ate PCP-laced dog food. In his world, Republicans make Nazis look like Boy Scouts—making him unwatchable by anyone who doesn’t share a similarly rabid worldview. The execrable Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow are in a similar vein.

Sadly, there just doesn’t seem to be an appetite for hard news on TV these days—if you want to be informed about the world, you use the Internet and get the facts for yourself. Right now, TV news is used in the same way a drunk uses a lamppost—for support rather than illumination.

Perhaps if Chris Matthews had declined to allow himself to be prostituted out to MSNBC’s brand of acid-drenched partisanship it would have saved Hardball from becoming a mockery of itself. If more journalists wanted to report the facts rather than spin them the state of TV journalism would be better. However, that would require some serious intellectual diversity, and journalism in general is a monoculture. FOX has done yeoman’s work in allowing a different perspective to have a voice, but it’s set a standard for valuing kneejerk “opinion” over strong journalism. The rest of the TV networks are copying the worst of that model.

TV news networks are hemorrhaging viewers, and given this race to the bottom, it’s not hard to understand why.

Andrew Sullivan’s Further Descent Into Hackery

Andrew Sullivan went from being an astute conservative columnist to a frothing partisan hack somewhere around the 2004 elections. His latest column in The Sunday Times amply demonstrates his fall into hackery. Now, because the Republicans have the sheer audacity to defy the Leader and go against a budget-busting spending bill in a time of fiscal turmoil, they are akin to the Taliban.

So much for not questioning the patriotism of others.

For instance, Sullivan makes this blatantly silly argument:

From the outset, the Republicans in Washington pored over the bill to find trivial issues to make hay with. They found some small funding for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases prevention; they jumped up and down about renovating the national mall; they went nuts over a proposal – wait for it – to make some government buildings more energy-efficient; they acted as if green research and federal funds for new school building were the equivalent of funding terrorism. And this after eight years in which they managed to turn a surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit and added a cool $32 trillion to the debt the next generation will have to pay for. Every now and again their chutzpah and narcissism take one’s breath away. But it’s all they seem to know.

Which conveniently ignores the very nature of the bill—a trillion-dollar giveaway to Democratic special interests. It is hardly “narcissistic” or an act of “chutzpah” to cry foul when the Treasury is being raided in a time when America’s debts are already threatening our fiscal future. But Sullivans M.O. is already well established—Republicans are always evil schemers seeking to establish their own power while the Obama Administration is always pure of heart. His simple morality play has little to do with reality, but it is a constant struggle for Mr. Sullivan to ignore what is in front of his nose.

The Republicans are an opposition party, and they have finally rediscovered the idea that they are supposed to be the party of small and responsible government. Apparently to Sullivan, their job now is to roll over at acquiesce to whatever the Great Obama wishes them to do. That someone who so frequently quotes George Orwell cannot see the Orwellian implications of our times is distressing.

That Sullivan adds some faint condemnation of the Democrats is only due to it allowing him to show how magnanimous and post-partisan the Obama Administration is. That the Obama Administration is attempting to politicize the Census is ignored. That the Obama Administration’s attempts at partisan “compromise” is largely window dressing is ignored. The ethical scandals that surround the Obama Administration is immaterial to Sullivan’s worldview. The resignation of Sen. Gregg as Commerce Secretary? To Sullivan, this had nothing to do with the Obama Administration’s evisceration of the post in favor of having Rahm Emmanuel run the show, it was clearly an act by the Republican base.

Sullivan is capable of deep though, but he choses not to exercise it, instead going for the rhetoric of a third-string Daily Kos blogger. How tiresome must it be to be yet another unquestioning mouthpiece for the Obama Administration. One would think it to be intellectually deadening after a while. But perhaps Mr. Sullivan has become tired of thinking and would rather trade his insightfulness and relevance for the adulation of the “netroots” mob.

The loss of such a formerly insightful thinker, alas, diminishes our political rhetoric at a time when it’s at one of its lows.

Farewell George Carlin

Comedy legend George Carlin died at the age of 71.

Carlin was one-of-a-kind. Anyone can be raunchy, but Carlin was the rarest combination: raunchy, but smart. His barbs were pointed, and they always hit their target.

As he once observed:

The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm.

George Carlin may not have gone out that way, but he certainly had one hell of a life.

On Being Time’s Person Of The Year

I was quite shocked to learn today that I’d been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. However, I would like to thank Time for such a great honor. After all, I did beat out such notables (both famous and infamous) as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jung Il, George W. Bush, Kofi Annan, as well as countless others. It is quite an accomplishment…

OK, so everyone is now Time‘s Person of the Year. If ever there was a case of diminishing the value of the currency, this would be it. After all, now the pickup line of “Hey baby, I was Time‘s Person of the Year!” is completely worthless. Believe me, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is livid about that one…

It seems that Time decided to cop out. Yes, YouTube is a fantastic service that portends to shake up the entire world of media. So why not nominate the founders of YouTube? Or better yet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google? Hell, since Time seems to have a predilection for Steve Jobs, why not nominate him?

Time gets it right when they note the power of citizen media. However, nominating everyone as Person of the Year just seems like a cop-out to me. Apparently, I’m not alone in that.

Oh well, at least I can say that I got to be Time‘s Person of the Year, and I didn’t even have to get my ass off the couch to do it…

Christmas In October?

ABC has a piece on how retailers are already starting to push Christmas when Halloween hasn’t even finished yet. This is one of my great pet peeves, not only has Christmas become overly commercialized, but it also keeps getting overly commercialized long before it’s due. It’s freakin’ October. There’s just no reason to start pimping a holiday that won’t happen for another two months. Already I’ve seen one commercial for Christmas decorations, which makes me want to find those responsible and beat them over the head with a fiberglass reindeer figure.

Of course, it’s all about the Almighty Dollar:

It’s a phenomenon called “Christmas creep,” according to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Hoping to catch early shoppers, retailers are extending their all-important holiday shopping season, which accounts for 25 percent to 40 percent of the year’s sales.

“The creep has been going on,” said William Cody, managing director of the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School. “Every year, retailers hope that coming out early is going to reduce the amount of promotions. They’d rather people buy at full price.”

Granted, I’ll defend capitalism any day, but even that has it’s limits. For one, anyone who is doing their Christmas shopping now is probably obsessive-compulsive enough to try to find the best deal anyway. Secondly, at this rate, by December 25th we’ll all be so damned sick of Christmas that we’ll actually want to spend time with our families rather than scurry around the mega-malls like a bunch of shocked rats.

I know, perish the thought that happens…

Andrew Sullivan, The Were-O’Reilly

James Lileks has a deft takedown of Andrew Sullivan’s latest arrogant effort in inanity. Like Lileks, I was a fan of Sullivan’s work back when he spent more time excoriating the people who were real fanatics before he decided to invent some of his own to attack. The use of the deeply silly term “Christianist” for everyone to the right of a Unitarian demonstrates both Mr. Sullivan’s abandonment of logic for the rhetoric of the permanently indignant. Andrew Sullivan has become a gay Bill O’Reilly, an arrogant hack trying to present himself as the paragon of rationality and moderation while casually dismissing any rational arguments that might contradict his worldview – all he needs to do is start talking about “the folks” and his transformation would be complete.

Sullivan’s MO is the same as O’Reilly’s schtick – find some issue in which he’s already come to his a priori conclusion, then bash everyone who tries to make a counterargument. His curt dismissals of Ramesh Ponnuru’s serious arguments on abortion, followed by repeated distortions of Ponnuru’s positions are further demonstration of his constant attempts to beat down the army of strawmen he’s created.

Like O’Reilly, Sullivan’s constant preening sanctimony wears thin. For all his talk about people who have Manichean worldview, the fact that he dismisses conservative Christians as “Christianists” (despite the fact that in doing so he rejects much of his own Catholic faith), his hysterical attacks on those who do not think that terrorists deserve Geneva Convention protections, and his constant use of cheap shots rather than intelligent arguments all paint a picture of someone more interested in throwing flames than casting light.

The fact is that Andrew Sullivan isn’t a dumb guy. He isn’t a bad writer. When he wants to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, he can be incredibly astute. After the events of September 11 he displayed a wonderful sense of moral clarity. His arguments (from the conservative side) in defense of gay marriage are some of the strongest arguments out there. In short, he’s better than cheap rhetoric he now uses.

Cheap partisan shots may get the traffic, and dismissing all contrary arguments on a prima facie basis may make one feel good, but ultimately the quality of a commentator is in how they grapple with the issues, not in how much they can beat up on a collection of straw men. Sullivan’s too gifted a thinker to descend into the world of cheap rhetoric and self-indulgent faux-populist schtick. Besides, Bill O’Reilly does it better than Sullivan.

UPDATE: The fact that Sullivan is hawking inane conspiracy theories from a group of 9/11-deniers doesn’t lend him any more credence.

The Real Cause For All The Problems In The Middle East

Megan McArdle (guestblogging at Instapundit) finds this ingenius piece by none other than Scott Adams of Dilbert fame:

During the several days that it was 112 degrees and I had no AC, all I wanted to do was build an IED and kill the AC guy who kept driving right past my office and helping other people. In fact, I wanted to kill everyone who didn’t agree with me on just about any point whatsoever.

And I realized that the problem with the Middle East is insufficient AC. If you think about it, virtually all of the organized violence in the world is originating from places where they have poor air conditioning. And in the desert, 112 degrees is considered a pleasant day. Imagine how grumpy you would be at 125 degrees. And guess what I never see on TV when they show footage of the Middle East?


Every frickin’ person they interview in the Middle East is standing directly in the sun. Some shade would be a good step toward world peace.

I think there’s something to this. For instance, it’s well over 100 here in Baja North Dakota, and after about ten minutes of the heat, dust, and wind, the thought of firing an AK-47 at the next schmuck who gets in my way sounds really attractive. A couple degrees hotter, and the thought of ululating while doing it might come to mind. (OK, so that was just a cheap excuse to use the word ‘ululating’.) As Adams notes:

At room temperature, you could never convince me to strap explosives to my body and walk into a crowded hotel lobby. But at 125 degrees, I’d welcome the change of pace.

And by Iraqi standards, today would be a cool day. If I had to put up with 117 degree heat all summer, I’d probably be looking for somebody to blow up too.

Which suggests a solution: we can easily alter the climate in the region by dumping a large amount of water into the region. Might I suggest diverting a few comets to create some nice cool freshwater lakes? I’m thinking there are a few nuclear sites in Iran that would make nice sites for such an endeavor…

President Bush’s Potty Mouth?

Apparently President Bush was caught using some off-color language to describe the situation in the Middle East.

I’m quite disappointed in the President. He was in Russia for heaven’s sake. To the Russians, cursing is an art form! If you’re going to go for it, go for it. What President Bush should have said is:

See, the f*cking irony of this completely f*cked up sh*t is what they really f*cking need to do is to get those goat-humping bastards in Syria and their limped-dicked prick of an a*shole President to get those terrorist donkey-raping motherf*ckers in Hezbollah to stop doing this f*cking sh*t. Yob tvoyu mat’, blya!

That would have greatly impressed the Russians.

A Note To Congress

It looks like the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning failed. As much as I hate damn dirty hippies who burn flags, I also like political speech. And despite the fact that burning a flag is stupid, disrespectful, and ignorant, so are a lot of things that are protected by the right of free speech.

I’m less concerned about people who burn American flags than those who burned 3,000 people to death a few years back.

Here are some things you should be doing:

  • Securing our borders
  • Stop wasting our money, and cut spending
  • Winning the war

When those are completed, then we can start talking about preventing married gay couples from burning American flags.

When those are accomplished