Are Our Critics and Commentators too White?

Should the pundit class look more like America?

White guys are getting it from all sides lately. Joe Biden is getting beaten up over busing. Bernie Sanders is sagging in the polls. Even Alfred E. Neuman is getting sacked.

Rebecca Traister, a columnist for The Cut, generated quite a bit of social media buzz with her essay, “Politics Is Changing; Why Aren’t the Pundits Who Cover It?

She hooked me right away with the subhed, “The Donny Deutsch problem in media.” While “Morning Joe” hasn’t been part of my routine for a while, every time he appeared on the screen I wondered Why?

Traister’s set-up:

In past weeks, the curtain has officially been raised on the vast and diverse field of candidates for the Democratic nomination, many of them politicians who would not have been seen on a presidential debate stage — and never in these numbers — even a decade ago. Six of the 25 declared candidates are not men; six of them are not white; there is one openly gay man and one Jew who’s also a democratic socialist. During the first round of debates, several candidates made efforts to speak Spanish that, while performative, reflected an overdue acknowledgment that they were speaking to a broader swath of the country than the moderate white men in diners to whom so much Democratic messaging has been directed for decades. Beyond their representational expansion, many of the candidates are offering up compelling, progressive policy ideas: pushing the party into fights for single-payer health care, subsidized child care, free college, a Green New Deal, a stronger commitment to reproductive justice and a push for more humane immigration policies.

Meh. Three cycles—and thus more than a decade—ago, the contest featured a woman as front-runner and she was defeated by a black man with a funny name. That same woman came back and won last cycle—holding off the Jew who’s also a democratic socialist. And the same woman was pushing for single-payer healthcare more than a quarter-century ago.

And, hell, Jimmy Carter was speaking Spanish on the campaign trail in 1976 and several Republicans have done so over the past two decades—George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz come to mind. So, it’s not that novel.

All of which is a digression from the actual point, so let’s move on to that.

But we’re also getting our first real taste of the punditry that will frame this next year and a half, and so far, it is the opposite of fresh, diverse, or forward-thinking. Rather, the analysis coughed up by some of the nation’s loudest and most prominent talking heads sounds familiar and stale. The dispiriting truth is that many of those tasked with interpreting our politics are — in addition to being extremely freaked out by the race they’re covering — totally ill-equipped for the historic task ahead of them.

So, what else is new? Pundits have an incredibly long shelf life and most of them are reporters with no special training in politics, economics, business, statistical analysis, or anything else that would be useful.

Where many Americans have seen the emergence of compelling and charismatic candidates who don’t look like those who’ve preceded them (but do look more like the country they want to lead), some prominent pundits seem to be looking at a field of people they simply can’t recognize as presidential. Where many hear Democratic politicians arguing vigorously on behalf of more justice and access to resources for people who have historically been kept at the margins of power, some prominent columnists are hearing a scary call to destabilization and chaos, imagining themselves on the outside of politics they’ve long assumed should be centered around them.

Altogether, what’s emerging is a view of a presidential commentariat that — in terms of both ideas and diversity — is embarrassingly outpaced by the candidates, many of whom appear smarter, more thoughtful, and to have a nimbler grasp of American history and structural inequities than the television journalists being paid to cover them.

I’m not sure that’s all that new, either.

The day after the first pair of debates, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough declared them “a disaster for the Democratic Party,” and hoped that no one had been watching (in fact, they had been watching; ratings were startlingly robust). Scarborough particularly bemoaned candidates’ opinions on immigration — namely that crossing the border should be reclassified as a federal misdemeanor, not a crime; and that immigrants should be entitled to health care — chiding that these ideas “may make Democrats feel really good about themselves,” but would lose them the election. This week, Scarborough went on a Twitter tear, venting against “woke Democrats” and their drive left, later deleting his thread.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s Robert J. Samuelson asserted that the Democratic candidates resemble “a gaggle of graduate students.” At the debates, all of them, he conceded, “seemed articulate and intelligent … None, however, seemed ‘presidential.'” At the New York Times, Never Trump conservative Bret Stephens was worse, arguing that if Democrats continue to do things like speak Spanish and argue for universal health care, they’ll not only “lose the elections,” they’ll “deserve it,” and suggesting that the candidates’ fights on behalf of immigrants, workers, the uninsured, and the economically struggling shows that Democrats are more invested “in them instead of us,” a formulation in which “us” seems clearly to stand for the white and the well-off, and “them” is … everyone else.

In particular, Stephens criticized Kamala Harris’s “scurrilous attack” on Joe Biden during the second debate, in which she confronted the former vice-president over his praise for segregationists he’d boasted of working alongside in his Senate career and pointed out that the very busing measures he’d sided with Republicans to oppose had been what enabled her to attend an integrated elementary school. Stephens compared Harris critically to Barack Obama, writing of the former president’s ability to “[make] you feel comfortable no matter the color of your skin,” and argued that Harris, by contrast, made “white Americans feel racially on trial.”

Stephens is a hack. Otherwise, though, this is all perfectly reasonable–if overwrought—analysis. The combination of our zeitgeist and system gave us Donald Trump last cycle. To the extent that the objective is to oust Trump, it behooves the Democrats to nominate someone who won’t alienate swing voters in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, even Donny Deutsch may be right:

Cable news analysis hit another low when Donny Deutsch, an advertising and branding executive who for years had his own CNBC show and was recently hired by MSNBC to host a weekly political talk show, said of Elizabeth Warren, whom he has predicted will lose 48 states should she become the nominee: “I think she’s delightful, I think she’s wonderful, I’m a big fan, I just don’t think she has what it takes to beat this president the same way … an idealized version of Joe Biden [does].” When challenged by MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, Deutsch got defensive: “I am understanding Donald Trump, the way he connects with this country, and the strength he exudes. We need to exude a stronger strength.” Deutsch exuded his own stronger strength by affirming that he is “a guy who’s done this for 30 years and watched human behavior.”

Traister points to some creepy things Deutsch has said and written about women over the years, none of which I’m going to defend. But I’m not sure he’s wrong about Warren. While I don’t share her politics, I find her likeable and admirable. But I’m not sure a wonky Massachusetts liberal is going to win back Obama voters than went for Trump last cycle.

Still, Traister makes a strong point when she observes,

This is the suffocatingly grim reality: Even after the peeling off of a layer of the political media’s most prominent interlocutors during #MeToo — including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer —television coverage of the 2020 election is still being led by men who have sketchy histories around gender and power. Even after a midterm season in which women — many of them women of color, some of them very progressive — won elections in historic numbers; even in the midst of a presidential crisis during which poor, black, brown, and immigrant communities have been made more vulnerable than ever, and have been brought closer to the center — finally — of left political engagement and activism; even given all of this, so many of the voices interpreting the events around us still belong to the guys who’ve been clumsily telling us what to think about politics for ages.

But I think she’s engaging in wishful thinking here:

Of course, it’s the swiftness of the political current that is making so many long-entrenched pundits so uncomfortable. They feel left behind and are convinced that the electorate reflects their own perspectives — as Donny Deutsch said last week to O’Donnell, “I guarantee you 90 percent of our audience agrees with me.” These analysts feel that a Democratic Party that’s moving left is ditching not just them, but their platonic ideal of a Democratic voter — concocted in the same spirit that Deutsch may imagine an “idealized version of Joe Biden”: a white centrist they are sure not only represents the average American, but the Democratic base. But in all of their hand-wringing, they seem not to have noticed that, in fact, assumptions about a safe center are crumbling in the hands of a new generation of political leaders willing to make a stirring case for radical ideas.

Support for the Green New Deal, a policy proposal which was treated as a joke not just by Republicans but by many in the Democratic Party and the press upon its inception, appears to have risen precipitously; a majority of voters support Medicare for All (even as many don’t totally understand what it entails). The majority of Americans support the kind of wealth tax that Elizabeth Warren is proposing, even as some economists criticize it as unrealistic. In fact, in this period during which mainstream political analysts talk so much about the perils of Democrats getting ever more progressive, a study released by the University of North Carolina last month showed American support for left-wing policy to be at a 60-year high, suggesting that perhaps the prescription being offered by these men — which if I’m piecing it all together correctly would be a moderate show of masculine prowess and deficit-wary conservatism that makes white people feel good about themselves — might be the very thing that has kept many voters from investing energetically in the Democratic Party until now. And the thing they fear most — these women and nonwhite guys with their angry voices and memories of being discriminated against who are not tall enough to debate Trump — may be what galvanizes the party.

There’s something to be said for energizing the base. While Trump drove old-style conservatives like myself from the party, he mobilized the populists in the base and even some of the Bernie Bros. Meanwhile, lots of Obama supporters stayed home for whatever reason despite the threat Trump represented.

It’s true that there’s strong support for a theoretical single-payer system. Hell, I support it. But Sanders, Warren, and Harris are running on the opposite of Obama’s unfortunate “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.” Eliminating private insurance may make economic sense but it’s wildly unpopular.

Similarly, a massive program to stave off the worst aspects of climate change sounds good. But the devil is in the details. Americans aren’t going to vote themselves a major lifestyle sacrifice today in exchange for a theoretical improvement in the environment generations from now.

Still, Traister could well be right here:

And in this small but serious way, some of these pundits do reflect one angle of what’s been happening in the primary field: the front-runner status of Joe Biden, a man who has flamed out of two previous presidential primary campaigns — one in which he was caught plagiarizing, one in which he spoke in affably racist terms about his competitor, Barack Obama, then won less than one percent of the Iowa caucus vote — yet has nonetheless continued to wield political power, and to lead this year’s presidential pack in terms of fundraising, polling, and press coverage.

Biden, like many of the most prominent men covering him, was born into a world in which every system was set up to help him build and preserve his own power, even — in fact by definition — at the expense of others. These guys are on some level unprepared for a universe in which others, people whose childhoods were shaped by the busing policies they were creating, might one day stand up and challenge them; in which a woman whose family once teetered on the brink of home foreclosure might fight them tooth and nail on bankruptcy reform, or in which they would be forced to reckon with a debate stage filled with those who felt it important to speak Spanish.

Now, I reject the notion that Biden’s “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man” was racist. Or that losing a race you were hardly in constitutes “flaming out.” But Biden’s ability to win a national race is indeed not only theoretical but against all evidence.

It’s based, presumably, on our backward analysis of 2016. Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly three million but failed to appeal to disaffected blue-collar voters in a handful of Rust Belt states. Pundits have been saying “Biden woulda won” and even “Bernie woulda won” ever since.

I tend to think that’s true. But we don’t know that. It’s possible that the gains in white males in those three states would have been offset by lower turnout among women and minority voters.

Regardless, 2020 isn’t 2016 and Trump’s popularity is historically low. It may well be that energizing Democratic base will be more important than catering to swing voters. Or that literally any Democrat is going to have an easy victory, so they may as well shoot for the moon.

Aside from lamenting the same old white dudes, Traister doesn’t really offer a solution. Presumably, she just wants more women and persons of color on her TV screen. Or maybe she just wants MSNBC to get rid of Donny Deutsch and Chris Matthews.

Over at the New York Times, Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang lament “The Dominance of the White Male Critic.” The bulk of the essay is about those who get paid to offer their opinions on the fine arts, a subject in which I have little interest and less expertise. It’s something of a mess, particularly since some of the ire is directed at white women.

But Berry and Yang ultimately get to the value of diverse viewpoints that Traister merely implies.

[T]hose who have for decades been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture are white men. This means that the spaces in media where national mythologies are articulated, debated and affirmed are still largely segregated. The conversation about our collective imagination has the same blind spots as our political discourse.

[…]

Reviews create momentum that shape economic and intellectual marketplaces.

Consider how this played out around the movie “Green Book.” When it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, most of the reviewers heralded it as a heartwarming triumph over racism.

But two months later, when it started screening in movie theaters across America, black writers saw it as another trite example of the country’s insatiable appetite for white-savior narratives.

The initial positive buzz set such a strong tone that its best-picture win at the Academy Awards seemed a foregone conclusion. But that didn’t stop the white filmmakers from going after black reviewers like K. Austin Collins of Vanity Fair who found it problematic.

“What the makers of this movie are missing is just that many black critics didn’t get to see this movie until it came out,” during Oscar season, well after early screenings for critics, Mr. Collins said during a panel at the Sundance Film Festival.

“When black critics do finally get to see this movie, it is seen as disrupting the Oscar campaign,” Mr. Collins said. “I don’t think any of us really care about that. We care about representation.”

The example of “Green Book” shows how uncritical affection for superficially benevolent stories can actually reinforce the racial hierarchies this country is built on. We need culture writers who see and think from places of difference and who are willing to take unpopular positions so that ideas can evolve or die.

[…]

Artists and institutions should demand that diverse writers have access to screenings, shows and red carpets . . .

Much of the rest is bizarre and fanciful (We must pay art critics way more even though they generate little interest! Entrenched critics must step aside!) but really beyond this discussion. But the central point about viewpoint diversity is valuable.

I’m aware of the “Green Book” controversy only because it was the subject of an episode of the New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast (“What Hollywood Keeps Getting Wrong About Race“) a while back. It’s a reverse “Driving Miss Daisy” but with the same plot conceit: a racist white gets transformed through a personal relationship with a black man. It’s a surefire hit with white, liberal movie critics and a shopworn trope many African-Americans find offensive because it implies that it’s somehow their duty to fix white racism.

Correcting the blind spots Traister, Berry, and Yang point to isn’t that easy.

Major networks, magazines, and newspapers have been working to diversify their commentariat for at least as long as I’ve been paying attention to such things—going back over four decades. I literally can’t remember a time when there weren’t women (Cokie Roberts, Eleanor Clift, Gloria Borger, Judy Woodruff, etc.) and African-Americans (Clarence Page, Juan Williams, Tony Brown, etc.) doing political commentary. And the diversification net has widened over the years to include Latino, gay, and lesbian voices. Indeed, Rachel Maddow, a lesbian, is almost certainly the main face of MSNBC at this point.

Still, there’s no doubt that white guys continue to be disproportionately featured. There’s tremendous inertia in the business, so many faces from twenty, thirty, and even forty years ago are still around. It took a major scandal to get Charlie Rose to go away and Chris Matthews doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But the same inertia keeps Cokie Roberts around, too, so it’s not just the men.

In the days when I was an avid watcher of the talking heads, I found comfort in the banal familiarity. While a handful of the regular pundits (George Will, Michael Kinsley, and Charles Krauthammer come to mind) were genuinely brilliant or had unique perspectives, most of them offered variations of the same, bland, mildly elitist ideas. Or played their roles as representatives of the left-right dichotomy dutifully.

In areas where I had some expertise, such as defense and foreign affairs, they were almost always underwhelming in their knowledge. But I tuned in, anyway, because they were the only game in town. I only drifted away because I started blogging and found engaging with other bloggers and commenters more intellectually stimulating than watching talking heads.

Having watched only rarely over the last decade and a half, I’m only casually familiar with the current state of play. There certainly seem to be plenty of women, persons of color, and young people on the shows. Are they not being given adequate airtime? Being crowded out by the oldsters?

For that matter, considering that we tend to pick from the same feeder systems (Columbia’s journalism school, the NYT, WaPo, and WSJ) as before, it’s not obvious that the women or minority pundits are even all that different from the white guys.

FILED UNDER: Media, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. In all honesty, I’m not sure what the people complaining about the “whiteness” of the pundit class is talking about. Both CNN and MSNBC seem to have made a conscious effort in this election cycle to make their regular groups of political analysts and pundits more diverse. I can’t speak for Fox News Channel since I seldom watch it, but there the only diversity they seem to be interested in is when it means attractive, leggy, blond women.

    Yea, Donny Deutsch has a show on MSNBC and he’s generally annoying but I have to admit that he’s been more spot-on in his assesment of Trump, and the blind spots that Democrats continue to have regarding 2020, than many other people. Additionally, his show is on Saturday nights, which isn’t exactly a time for high viewership of polticial content.

  2. Lynn says:

    “At the debates, all of them, he conceded, “seemed articulate and intelligent … None, however, seemed ‘presidential.’” ”

    And he’s 100% correct, if we base our definition of “presidential” on the current occupant.

    11
  3. michael reynolds says:

    MSNBC has assiduously diversified its pundit class. African-Americans are at at least 13% of on-air pundits there, several very good. Women lag at the helm of shows, but no one doubts that MSNBC is defined by Rachel Maddow, and Joy Reid was on her way to becoming Rachel’s number two when she ran into her own past comments and had her progress slowed. Of the five prime time MSNBC shows one is led by a white lesbian, four by straight white males. There’s no question that white males dominate, but these things take time, people work their way through the system, and MSNBC is growing a sturdy crop of diverse pundits.

    Incidentally, about a year after I quit doing political media (roughly 2006), I was approached by MSNBC to comment on some political topic or other, I forget. I did what no pundit should ever do: I explained that I was no expert on the topic and had nothing particular to offer. I was not called again.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Part of the problem seems to be that a pundit can be repeatedly and wildly wrong, or very far over the hill, without it ever damaging their career. People like Bill Kristol, Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews seem to have never been right on anything, and yet still have their secure positions. Others like Tom Friedman, George Will and Cokie Roberts have their best days in the distant past, yet still have a prominent place in our discourse.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Moosebreath: Somebody did a study years ago looking at the accuracy of testable predictions by major pundits. IIRC, Dr. K came off best and Cal Thomas worst. There was a liberal/conservative correlation, but the big correlation was with income. The path to financial success was finding an audience and telling them what they wanted to hear. George Will has made an awful lot of money.

  6. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Rebecca Traister’s problem is not that commentators are too White, but that she wants more commentators that are like Rebecca Traister. Besides that, she basically argued in 2010 that Hillary Clinton was a political genius that was being ignored by the Democratic Party, I don’t know if her understanding of the average voter is better than Donny Deutsch’s.

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    You’re right. This isn’t an easy problem to fix, even though it might seem like it. This stuff is pretty deeply embedded in our psyches. And it’s embedded in the psyches of people far beyond the white male. It’s an easier job for someone who isn’t a white male to figure out there’s something wrong, much harder to exorcise those demons.

    And for an old white guy like me, there’s an extra wrinkle. If I were try to lead on this, it would, probably necessarily, taint the effort. The best I can do is try to develop sources that I can both relate to and learn from that aren’t either white, old, or male.

    Meanwhile, I don’t much feel like I want to lob grenades at other old white guys, most of whom, like me, are just doing the best they know how. I want more of role of encouragement and invitation, I think. Getting out of the house is rewarding and enriching. Do more of it.

  8. I would note, that I do think “idealized Joe Biden” wins in 2020. I am just pretty sure the “idealized” part doesn’t exist, although I think regular Joe Biden, as well as a number of other Democrats have a real shot at winning. I just am not convinced Joe is the only one.

    Pundits have been saying “Biden woulda won” and even “Bernie woulda won” ever since.

    I might buy the Biden argument, as the sitting VP to Obama. I do not think Bernie could have won–I think he would have been even harder for disaffected Reps to vote for and I think his whole “Democratic Socialist” bit would have been a bridge too far for a lot of voters.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    said of Elizabeth Warren, whom he has predicted will lose 48 states should she become the nominee: “I think she’s delightful, I think she’s wonderful, I’m a big fan, I just don’t think she has what it takes to beat this president the same way … an idealized version of Joe Biden [does].”

    I love EW, have sent her money. While at this point in time I agree that it is unlikely she will win the DEM nomination (any race involving trump is a crap shoot and applying normal political analysis to it is borderline malpractice at best) I have to say the above is just flat out stupid. For starters, where has this mythological “idealized Joe Biden” been hiding all these years? And just exactly what qualities does DD think “I JB” possesses? And in what ways is “I JB” a superior candidate than the real world Elizabeth Warren?

    Hell’s bells, I think an “idealized OzarkHillbilly” can talk ‘punditric’ circles around ol’ Donny Deutsch any day of the week. If “I OHB” ever shows up I’ll send him straight over to MSNBC for some of that sweet pundit grift.

    ETA Damn it @Steven L. Taylor: beat me by this much.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Lynn:

    And he’s 100% correct, if we base our definition of “presidential” on the current occupant.

    Ha. I don’t think anyone is doing that. But almost nobody is “presidential” the first time they run. Biden kind of fits the mold because he’s been around forever and was Veep.

    @michael reynolds:

    I did what no pundit should ever do: I explained that I was no expert on the topic and had nothing particular to offer. I was not called again.

    Yeah, I did the same thing multiple times—even on foreign affairs topics. Also, I often said, “Nah, it’s not worth several hours of my evening/weekend to get maybe 8 minutes on your show.”

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Rebecca Traister’s problem is not that commentators are too White, but that she wants more commentators that are like Rebecca Traister. Besides that, she basically argued in 2010 that Hillary Clinton was a political genius that was being ignored by the Democratic Party, I don’t know if her understanding of the average voter is better than Donny Deutsch’s.

    This is a leading contender for Comment of the Day.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do not think Bernie could have won–I think he would have been even harder for disaffected Reps to vote for and I think his whole “Democratic Socialist” bit would have been a bridge too far for a lot of voters.

    I tend to agree. He definitely would have siphoned off some of the angry populist vote that Trump attracted but he may indeed have made it harder for old style Republicans to vote for than Clinton. Then again, Clinton had her own baggage in that regard.

  11. Kit says:

    If certain stations are groaning under the weight of old white pundits, then it’s probably because the audience is old and white. These places are echo chambers. Then again, this isn’t the 70’s where we are limited to a few channels, a few weekly magazines, and a local paper. People seek out voices that resonate. Change the mix of taking heads on CNN, and I suspect that as many new viewers will tune in as tune out. I, for one, turned off that crap decades ago.

    All that said, I’d love to see an interesting new voice added to OTL.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I agree that Bernie would have lost, probably bigger than Hillary. But he would have had two things going for him compared to Hillary.

    The GOP character assassination machine would have laid into him as a comsymp (even though they themselves seem to be Russian sympathizers these days) and anything else they could dredge up. Or make up. But they wouldn’t have had the running start they did with Benghazi!!! and HER EMAILS.

    And Identity Crisis estimates being female cost Hillary. They explain that traditional male is a bigger factor in men’s identity than female is for women and on net she lost more men’s votes than she gained from women.

    But I don’t think it would have been enough. He’d probably have seen even lower black turnout than Hillary.

  13. Andy says:

    I honestly had no idea who Donny Deutsch is – I had to look him up.

    The bigger problem with the pundit class, IMO is that their opinions are usually less than worthless – listening to them will usually make you dumber and less able to analyze what is really going on. Their only real skillset is the ability to pontificate on camera in a way that appears credible. They exploit the human tendency to trust people that appear to be decisive, knowledgable and competent. The reality is most of them are clueless.

    Moosebreath is completely correct about how their track record has no effect on their pundit status. IMO, they are best ignored.

    And that should be easy because most of America is ignoring them already. The reality is that the market for punditry is really narrow and unrepresentative of the public as a whole. So yes, Traister is right about the demographic makeup of the pundit class, but that matches its demographic audience which seems to be principally composed of older white people, political activists, and political junkies.

    Morning Joe, for instance, the “top rated” morning program, gets about a million viewers a day – but only 164k of those were in the 25-54 demographic out of ~104 million in that age bracket. Viewership in the 10ths of a percent for arguably the most important age cohort in the country is nothing to brag about.

    Especially compared to alternatives like NPR (millions of listeners every morning). The morning cable news shows even rank behind local morning news broadcasts. And this is before we even get to podcasts and other new media – Joe Rogan supposedly has an audience of 100 million, just to name one example.

    So, why should anyone care about what Donny Deutsch or Joe Scarborough have to say?

    And I think Traister’s issue is already sorting itself out. It’s not like cable news and punditry have a lock on eyeballs. People are already going to alternatives and there are thousands to choose from.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    In reply to your headline question, no. But many of the best known and most read/viewed of our commentariat are too conventional and too careerist. Chuck Todd is the poster boy. Also, it’s hard to be brilliant and insightful on a daily, weekly, or twice weekly schedule, and most of them gave up on that years ago.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Kit:

    If certain stations are groaning under the weight of old white pundits, then it’s probably because the audience is old and white.

    Heh. That registered when I read it. I wonder what the demographic makeup is on Twitter or Instagram or whatever those darn young’uns are using today?

    FWIW, while I think the justice and fairness aspects of diversity is important, I don’t think we pay enough attention to the benefits of diversity, especially for news media. I wish I could link to a column I actually copied out long hand in a journal but it was a decade or more before the internet was a thing (88 or 89). Anyway, it was from a long time stringer in Saudi Arabia, a westerner, whose job was to be a guide for western newspaper and tv reporters when they came to spend their 3 days “really understanding” the country. He wrote a funny and disturbing “article” parodying the results of these junkets, done as the equivalent article as if a Saudi journalist had gone to the US with as little understanding of the culture. It’s full of “surprising insights” such as the nickel coin is worth less the dime coin although the nickel is bigger! And goes to great length to name the religion of every person discussed, whether it is the inevitable taxi driver or the president (a Christian) or the head of the Fed (a Jew). Bottom line, people who grew up as men in a certain cultural milieu are just not going to be as good in reporting on certain regions and issues as those who have had at least some personal involvement.

    And don’t get me started about the difficulties of even brilliant people understanding the markets and dynamics in other cultures when it comes time to design a new product. People are good at understanding when things are “more” or “less” but don’t even know that they don’t even know when things are really different.

  16. Kit says:

    @MarkedMan:

    And don’t get me started about the difficulties of even brilliant people understanding the markets and dynamics in other cultures when it comes time to design a new product.

    At the risk of getting you started (and going off topic), I’m often frustrated at web sites that are smart enough to automatically offer content based on a user’s location, but so obtuse that they don’t provide an easy way for viewers to change the language. Often I’m reduced to editing the URL.

  17. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan:

    demographic makeup is on Twitter or Instagram or whatever those darn young’uns are using today?

    So this got me curious because historically both computer tech and media are overrepresented by white males. It seems Twitter is actually way more representative of American society.
    from Engadget:

    Pew: Twitter users are younger and more Democratic than most Americans
    The most active users are more likely to be women and to tweet regularly about politics.

    A recent report from the Pew Research Center says Twitter users are younger, more highly educated, have higher incomes and are more likely to identify as Democrats compared to the general public. They’re also more likely to support immigration and see evidence of racial- and gender-based inequality in society. This might be surprising given how loud opposing views can appear on the platform.

    The study looked at a sampling of 2,791 US adult Twitter users. The median age of those users was 40, compared to 47, the national median age of adults. According to the report, 42 percent of adult Twitter users have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31 percent of the general public. The breakdown is almost the same when it comes to income. An estimated 41 percent of Twitter users earn more than $75,000, while just 32 percent of the general public meet that benchmark. In terms of gender, race and ethnicity, though, the makeup of Twitter users is similar to the adult population as a whole.

    (my bolding)

  18. I decided a while ago that, at least as it pertains to cable TV talking heads and radio commentators, that a huge slice of political punditry is no better than sports talking heads–it is just a lot of shouting to create faux controversies or to cheerlead for a POV. And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether one was right or wrong. Certainly, careful analysis and evidence-based reporting is not the goal.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Also, I often said, “Nah, it’s not worth several hours of my evening/weekend to get maybe 8 minutes on your show.”

    Yep. Unless you have a topical book to pimp, or are just needy and crave exposure I don’t see the point. You need to live in either DC or NYC and be ready to punditize at the drop of a hat. You get paid nothing unless they make you a regular, and ever after you’re trapped in a public image over which you have only limited control.

    I have never understood the lust for fame. The only upside of fame is it may earn you money, and money is excellent, love it. But if you can earn without fame that’s all upside, no downside.

  20. @michael reynolds: Yep. I do a little bit of local TV and have done the BBC once. There is a lot of waiting, frequent cancellation, and really not enough time to say anything of substance.

    One learns quickly that the producers have no idea whether you really know what you are talking about or not. And, as such, means that I trust talking heads on TV even less than I used to.

  21. The main skill set is being available and having some kind of title or other indication that will make the audience see you, in some capacity, as an expert.

  22. wr says:

    @Andy: “Morning Joe, for instance, the “top rated” morning program, gets about a million viewers a day – but only 164k of those were in the 25-54 demographic out of ~104 million in that age bracket. Viewership in the 10ths of a percent for arguably the most important age cohort in the country is nothing to brag about.”

    That is the “most important age cohort in the country” to advertisers, because it’s assumed they’re the ones who buy cars and other expensive items. It’s not a moral or qualitative judgment, for Christ’s sake.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    Not to be snarky, but I would suggest that we old white males are completely unreliable judges of how much diversity of viewpoint is appropriate or desirable. Don’t ask the fish whether water is overrepresented…

  24. Gustopher says:

    As a white man, there are a lot of questions that I don’t know enough to even ask… but the job of pundits isn’t to ask questions, just to repeat their talking points.

    “Elizabeth Warren is rising in the polls? Well that’s trouble for the Democrats because America wants lower taxes on the upper classes.”

  25. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Morning Joe, for instance, the “top rated” morning program, gets about a million viewers a day – but only 164k of those were in the 25-54 demographic out of ~104 million in that age bracket

    Dude, it’s a children’s show. It’s Blues Clues without the dog.

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  26. Andy says:

    @wr:

    That is the “most important age cohort in the country” to advertisers, because it’s assumed they’re the ones who buy cars and other expensive items. It’s not a moral or qualitative judgment, for Christ’s sake.

    I’m not making a moral judgment. The reality is, however, that the 25-54 demographic is the core economic and political cohort in the US. And if one is concerned about diversity on the TV, this is the cohort that is going to provide it.

  27. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’ll take your word for it, I’ve never watched it.

  28. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    “Morning Joe” is profitable for NBC because it’s a popular show among staffers in Capitol Hill. Its not influential among the plebe, it’s not Walter Cronkite. I personally think that’s depressing to watch US news channels – not because of the content per se – but because you are inundated with ads for prescription drugs, reverse mortgages, and things like that. Advertisers know the people that watches cable news.

    Average youtubers have a wider reach than Morning Joe.

    In end, Rebecca Traister is basically saying that NBC should be spending more money paying for people like Rebecca Traister. She wants NBC to pay her for her conventional wisdom instead of paying Donny Deutsch for his conventional wisdom.

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  29. Andy says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Yes, essentially the point I tried to make, but you made it much better.

  30. Mike says:

    Who watches these pundits? As soon as I see them on a channel, I keep going. Most are qualified bc? White, black, brown. They give unqualified opinions on subjects they know very little about. I’m better off reading wickipedia which seems the standard of research for pundits on tv.

  31. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I have to say the above is just flat out stupid.

    It’s flat-out stupid for a reason you don’t mention: anyone who claims that any of the Democrats is in danger of losing 48 states simply doesn’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about when it comes to modern electoral politics. First of all, near-full-state sweeps simply do not happen today, period. The states are way too polarized. Second, the few past presidents who did achieve near-sweeps–FDR, Nixon, Reagan–were extremely popular at the time, something Trump most definitely is not.

  32. Tyrell says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: You hit the nail on the head. The issue is not if the commentators are too white or not. The thing to be concerned with is if they are professional journalists or not. And I am of the opinion that they are not. I was brought up on Conkrite, Brinkley, Reasoner, and the amazing Charles Kuralt. They gave the news: facts, not the political propaganda we get now. They did not holler at or berate their guests (or each other). CNN was professional when Ted Turner ran it. Now it is a joke.
    The print media is no longer relevant. There was a time when we subscribed to a morning paper and an evening paper. Now there is no paper delivery in our neighborhood. None of the local stores have the paper boxes.
    Yes, depressing. There are alternatives now.
    “It’s not news” Larry King