Calling Out Pundits And Politicians When They’re Wrong

Why do pundits who are consistently wrong keep getting invited to be on television?

Thomas Ricks passes along a comment from an unnamed Major about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or more specifically the predictions made by those who opposed repeal last year:

At what point in time should journalists, bloggers, etc … hold those who made wildly inaccurate predications on the lifting of the ban accountable? All the retired generals and officers (LTG Mixon, Merrill A. McPeak and Col. Dave Bedey for example) who predicted that soldiers would leave the military by the thousands, or John McCain and other politicians describing how it would affect us as a fighting force? At some point I feel that the public should be reminded of their predictions so the next time they make predictions that are way off the mark, fewer people will give them credence.

Steve Benen is skceptical of an idea like this for many of the same reasons that I am, but John Cole mistermix is sympathetic and seems to think this could be a job for a Media Matters type organization:

People do call out McCain and others all the time, but it’s in specific blog posts or articles. There’s no central repository of the ridiculous predictions that he and others have made about DADT and a host of other issues, so lazy journalists with no memory have to do some work to point out that McCain and others have been consistently wrong throughout their careers.

Perhaps Media Matters or a similar group could start an accountability wiki that focuses on the wrongness of establishment types. Take the top 20 guests from Sunday morning shows over the past ten years, pick a dozen or so issues, and tell us how many they got right.

It would be an interesting project perhaps, but I’m not sure that it’s a resource that anyone outside of bloggers who like to spend time picking apart the ridiculously stupid things that commentators from the left and the right say on cable television.  Most Americans aren’t going to take the time to find out how accurate someone like Ed Schultz or Sean Hannity was, largely because most of the people that watch shows like that don’t care about accuracy, they watch the shows because it presents them with a worldview that they agree with. Similarly, the networks aren’t going to care all that much because they thrive on controversy and conflict far more than they do on reasoned analysis of important political issues. If you’re watching Fox News and MSNBC expecting that you’re going to be sadly disappointed in nearly every case, and CNN doesn’t do a much better job most of the time.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that these pundits who appear on cable, and on the Sunday programs, aren’t being asked on their to provide a recitation of facts as if they were a journalist, they’re being invited on to express their opinion. Most of the time, the predictions they make are quite obviously their opinions, not some kind of grand statement of fact. Since everything is being expressed in the form of so-called “opinion journalism,” it’s really hard to say that they were objectively wrong except in the most extreme cases.

Now, there are some situations where pundits deserve to be called out, and perhaps more. The predictions of DADT opponents is wrong, but some of the most egregious examples come in the area of financial “news” where you have a guy like Jim Cramer who was telling people one week before Bear Sterns collapsed in 2008 that the company was still a good investment even while others were sending warning signals. Cramer still has a show on CNBC, and appears regularly on NBC and MSNBC as a financial commentator. With someone like that, who some people apparently still turn to for financial advice, one would think a warning label stamped squarely on the forehead is necessary.

In the end, though,  this strikes me as a job for the marketplace of ideas. If independent people continually call out these people then eventually someone is going to listen.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Hey Norm says:

    Look – of we are going to start holding people accountable we are going to have to hold the entire Republican Party accountable.
    The IMF is out with a report that says Inequality…which is the aim of every GOP policy and has been remarkably effective for 30 years…actually restricts growth.
    So everything we have been hearing from that side of the aisle since the days of Reagan is bunk. And no one agrees more…they should be called on it. Now. And loudly.
    http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2011/09/berg.htm

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Key take-away from link above:

    “…The analysis calls to mind the developing country debt crises of the 1980s and the resulting “lost decade” of slow growth and painful adjustment. That experience brought home the fact that sustainable economic reform is possible only when its benefits are widely shared. In the face of the current global economic turmoil and the need for difficult economic adjustment and reform in many countries, it would be better if these lessons were remembered rather than relearned…”

    Republicans want to “take us back” and force us to re-learn what we should already know.
    It’s not about pundits…they are the tree. A Republican Party peddling a failed philosophy needs to be recognized as the forest…and not be lost because of the trees. They need to be called on their BS.

  3. mistermix says:

    That wasn’t John Cole, it was me.

  4. My apologies, I’ll fix that.

  5. Jay Tea says:

    Doug, it’s the job of pundits (even amateurs like you and me) to offer opinions and observations, and occasionally predictions. We’re going to be wrong a lot. How would you stand up to someone going through your archives here and grading your postings?

    On the DADT issue, I predicted that the Marines would resist the most, but if it came down that it was history, they’d be the first to salute and do their damnedest to make it work. And as you recall, on the first day it was history, there was a Marine recruiter at a Tulsa gay community center. Several lesbians chatted with him and took the literature.

    I’ve made a lot of other predictions that didn’t come out as well, but I’m proud of that one. On the other hand, though, it really wasn’t much of a stretch…

    J.

  6. Jay Tea says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Well, Doug, you just blew every single ouce of credibility you ever had, making THAT mistake…

    J.

  7. Lit3Bolt says:

    At the very least, can we stop pretending as if “Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute” or “New York Times Columnist” means anything of significance? Pundits aren’t selected for their accuracy…they’re actors/writers selected to sell ideology and ad time.

  8. CB says:

    i nominate bill kristol for poster boy. how the man still gets work, even among neocons, is beyond me.

  9. CB says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    im thinking of a ‘senior fellow at the brookings institute’, who seems to be popping up quite a bit lately…

  10. MBunge says:

    “In the end, though, this strikes me as a job for the marketplace of ideas. If independent people continually call out these people then eventually someone is going to listen.”

    That’s like saying we don’t need laws against consumer fraud because unscrupulous companies will eventually get bad enough reputations to force them out of business.

    Mike

  11. mattb says:

    @CB: Kristol is bad. However nothing trumps the Morris. Seriously… has this man ever been right?

    More broadly, this is pushing on the great question of what is the purpose of “news” in a neoliberal world. I can give you the cynical answer…

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Unfortunately the “marketplace of ideas” won’t cure the systemic inaccuracies and absurdies from the likes of Fox, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, etc., for the very reasons cited in this blog: their respective audiences don’t care about accuracy or even common sense. The same rationale applies to conservative talk radio. Do you actually believe Limbaugh’s or Levin’s or Savage’s audiences care about accuracy?? All this is a function of demographics. The chattering classes disproportionately are represented by people who are not part of the gainfully-employed workforces. They’re out of touch. Idle time = idle minds.

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: You didn’t mention FOX. People like Bill Kristol have never been right about anything but still appear day after day. Ditto Dick Morris.

  14. CB says:

    @mattb:

    well, come on, dick morris is obviously satire. hes a fantastically clever pundit who is wonderfully in tune with the dysfunction and counterintuition that defines our modern media landsc…wait, what? hes for real? and they PAY him? get the f@ck out…

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    The serial fumblers get invited back for several reasons. That they’re entertaining has already been mentioned. It also may be that they can be expected to express an opinion that the management likes. The song, not the singer as it were.

    Another reason that you hear from some so frequently is that they may be expected to express an opinion that differs from the conventional wisdom but they don’t drool or spit on the carpet.

    What’s really amazing is not how often some pundits are wrong or how few most are right but how narrow the range of opinion that is expressed is in the mainstream media. Opposing viewpoints are barely opposing. A football game played between the 40 yard lines, indeed.

  16. EddieInCA says:

    As I’ve been saying for a long time, we don’t have a politcal problem. We have a Media problem. The Media has become stenographers for the political and financial class. Truth no longer matters.

    As an example, last week the Senate voted 50-48 to pass Obama’s Jobs Bill. The New York Times reported it as “Obama’s Bill Fails in Senate”, as opposed to “GOP blocks Obama Jobs Bill on Procedural Vote, despite Majority Support”.

    James Fallows, in The Atlantic, had a great piece on how the major media had abdicated their responsibilities for telling the truth to the public.

    Why do so many people believe Obama is a Muslim?
    Why do so many people think Obama instigated all the bailouts, when, in fact, they started under Bush?
    Why do so many people not realize that Ronald Reagan supported Amnesty and raised taxes several time?
    Why do so many people not understand that George Bush kept the cost of two wars “off the books”, therefore making his budgets seem lower than they actually were?

    I could go on and on and on. But the bottom line is that until the citizens start demanding accountability, pundits, reporters, and political hacks will be able to lie at will, because there is no reason for them to start telling the truth. It’s easier, and more profitable, to just keep lying.

  17. Eddie,

    The media give the public what it wants, plain and simple.

    Looking for someone to blame? The American people need to look in the mirror.

  18. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That’s the problem Doug – the “news” has become infotainment. And you are rignt – the American people are not interested in “news” only what supports their preconceived notions. We get the Democracy we deserve.

  19. Ron

    I really have to wonder if things are worse now than in the past.

    Are they worse than they were during the Yellow Journalism era when newspaper publishers arguably manipulated public opinion against Spain toward a war we really had no reason to fight?

    Are they worse than they were during the run up to the Civil War, and even during it, when opposition newspapers routinely referred to Abraham Lincoln as a “a monkey,” among other things best not repeated among politie company?

    Are they worse than they were during the Election of 1800 when Federalist and Democratic-Republican newspapers threw barbs at Adams and Jefferson that were little more than vile insults?

    Heck, is our media any worse than what passes for a newspaper industry in England?

  20. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “The media give the public what it wants, plain and simple.”

    Alcoholics want booze. Does that mean you should not only give it to them, but give them the strongest proof in the biggest bottle? I don’t understand why a libertarian is so quick to dismiss individual responsiblity in this way.

    Mike

  21. MBunge,

    The media is a business like any other. The survive be increasing their audiences so that they can earn revenue by charging advertisers. The public makes its choices, just as it has for a long time.

    The individual responsibility here lies with the consumers of news as much as the producers.

  22. mattb says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Leaving British newspapers out of the discussion, the biggest issue between the pre-Professionalization phase of American Journalism and today was that there were — arguably — more viewpoints being represented in the “MSM” of the time.

    The advent of blogging has brought some of that diversity back… but not in a comperable way.

  23. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “I really have to wonder if things are worse now than in the past.”

    Considering that your three examples are 100 or more years old, I’d say you answered your own question. When you have to point to stuff that happened before your father was born in order to excuse today’s media behavior, that’s pretty good evidence that today’s media is worse in a meaningfully relative sense.

    Mike

  24. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “The media is a business like any other.”

    So, as long as I’m engaging in economic activity…I’m not responsible for my own behavior? That’s the libertarian view? Really? So why is murdering my competition to increase my market share wrong?

    Mike

  25. legion says:

    most of the people that watch shows like that don’t care about accuracy, they watch the shows because it presents them with a worldview that they agree with.

    Doug,
    this is absolutely correct. But it might help us all out if the veneer of respectability could be removed from people who claim their views _are_ accurate because they heard them on the air.

  26. MBunge,

    Then how about the media silence about FDRs medical condition during World War II? Certainly a relevant fact considering he was dead five months after the 1944 election.

    What about the media silence about JFKs peccadilloes — certainly relevant to the extent he was allegedly sharing a girlfriend with the head of the Chicago mob?

    The idea that the news media has ever been the kind of ideal institution some people to think it should be is simply not true

  27. legion says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Doug, it’s the job of pundits (even amateurs like you and me) to offer opinions and observations, and occasionally predictions. We’re going to be wrong a lot. How would you stand up to someone going through your archives here and grading your postings?

    When I start getting a 6-figure paycheck to post here, and when national policy is impacted in any way, shape, or form by my opinions, I’ll start giving those opinions a lot more thought (and editing). But we _are_ amateurs. The people this would call to task _really do_ affect the world we live in, and not in a good way.

  28. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “The idea that the news media has ever been the kind of ideal institution some people to think it should be is simply not true”

    Nice straw man, there. I doubt anyone in the media has ever considered it an ideal institution. As for the FDR and JFK examples, they certainly prove the media of those eras were far more reluctant to delve into the personal behavior and private life of elected officials, even in situations where it may have affected their public duties. Do you really think that’s the same thing as a media that not only tolerates lying BS artists willfully misleading the public but actively promotes such actions?

    Mike

  29. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    24/7 cable news is a relatively new phenomenon. Though one could argue there is little difference (in how bad the media is) in kind, there is undoubtedly a difference in scale.

  30. Scott,

    Cable and the internet have changed the way people consume and react to news events permanently, there’s really not a lot we can do about that in my opinion.

  31. mattb says:

    @Scott F.:

    24/7 cable news is a relatively new phenomenon. Though one could argue there is little difference (in how bad the media is) in kind, there is undoubtedly a difference in scale.

    Actually, I’d argue that the entire 20th century — definitely Post WW1 — has been fundamentally unique in terms of media’s scale and reach in the west, with 24/7 cable news being the ultimate manifestation of it, but also a signal of the end of this era.

    Quick media sketch for the US (and a lesser degree Europe)…

    When the steam press was introduced in the first half of the mid 19th century, it began a trend of fundamentally reinventing the media business in both terms of reach and economics. Simply put, it became possible — for those who could afford it — to have a previously unheard of reach.

    Then, post WWI, as — at least in the US — people began to migrate out of cities and into geographically dispersed suburbs, the diverse voices of urban newspapers began to die out, replaced by one or two major papers in a given city, local town weeklies, and regional suburban papers. At the same time, broadcast news began to eat into newspapers due to shifts in reading and commuting habits.

    The consolidation of ownership (at TV/Radio were especially suited to consoldiation) and product (multiple papers or TV news departments folding into one) and the relative stability of the platforms (newsprint, TV, radio) led to the emergence of a particular type of professionalized journalism (in the US — totally different story in Europe). And that in turn led to a fundamental change in what we imagined news to be. An the relative stability of those audiences led to astronomical ad fees.

    To some degree the ultimate realizations of that was on one hand NPR and the NYT (example of high Journalistic Standards) and on the other hand CNN and FoxNews (examples of news and only news as a content platform in support of advertising).

    But for a variety of reasons, as the technology destabilized and there was an increasing need to provide novel content, we’ve seen a shift away from (expensive) professional journalistic ideals and a shift back towards a more historical “American” press (ie. what Doug referred to in the previous post).

    Additionally, blogging and other new media outlets have further muddied the waters. The fact is, right now, it’s not so much that the news industry is dying (though a particular form of it is) as it is that no one quite knows what the new format will look like.

  32. mattb says:

    BTW, an important thing to remember is generally speaking, news consumption (at least through traditional means) is WAY down.

    The news channels combined will never attract as many viewers as the CBS evening news did at it’s height. In many respects today’s media environment (and the consumption of news media) resembles what it was like to live in 1910-20’s NYC or Chicago — arguable the Golden age of newspaper journalism.

  33. Fiona says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Cable and the internet have changed the way people consume and react to news events permanently, there’s really not a lot we can do about that in my opinion.

    The advent of the 24-7 news cycle and the internet has made “news” far more all pervasive and more geared toward entertainment, particularly on the cable news stations. If I had time, I’m sure I could dig up studies showing that most “news” stories on TV are much shorter than those in the past, much more geared toward key points and a shortened attention span.

    Is it worse than the yellow journalism of the past? Hard to say because our means of receiving information is so much different and more spontaneous than in the past, and because I think it’s much easier to manipulate people through visual imagery than print.

    I used to watch a lot more cable news than I do now, largely because I got tired of the fake match-ups between “left” and “right” which provided more hot air than elucidation and seem, on all cable channels, to be the producers’ idea of “fair and balanced.”

  34. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Doug –

    Whether anything can be done about how we consume and react to news or not, to recognize that we consume and react to it differently than we used to is worth noting nonetheless. I agree with mattb’s point that the formats for news are evolving in ways we don’t know yet and probably will only understand well in hindsight.

    The comments in this thread seem to me to be making mistermix’s point. A new tool for monitoring media accuracy, taking advantage of new technology, is needed. As you say, if enough independent voices start calling out sources as unreliable, perhaps people will start to listen.

  35. Murray says:

    “Why do pundits who are consistently wrong keep getting invited to be on television?”

    Because facts, truth, objective reality and intellectual honesty have nothing to do with punditry. It’s all just an act the purpose of which is only … ratings. (Just ask Ailes why he hired Palin, or ask yourself howcome Olbermann & Hannity can sit side by side joking at a basketball game.)

    The simple fact TV debates are systematically organized in a pugilistic “Conservative vs Liberal” format is enough to tell us they are worthless. Even cartoon characters have more than one degree of freedom.

  36. DougJ says:

    If you want to make yourself vomit, read this profile of Cramer:

    “Jim Cramer has a fistful of Harvard degrees, eight figures in the bank and an I.Q. north of 150.”

  37. Wayne says:

    @Doug
    Re “Looking for someone to blame? The American people need to look in the mirror. “

    First you call out pundits for being wrong then excuse the media for being wrong.
    The media has a long track record of getting things wrong including the basic facts. Pundits at least are up front that they are giving their opinions.

    Yes I would like to see some sort of record monitoring of not only pundits but media and pollsters. Pollsters are famous for having their numbers abnormally change at the very end to help cover their facade of accuracy.

    @Legion
    Re “But we _are_ amateurs”
    Relying on anyone to tell you what to think because you are an “amateur” and they are a “professional” is foolish. Sometimes we have little choice but we should be somewhat skeptical of what anyone tells us.

  38. Wayne says:

    DADT repeal has been less than a month. Claiming the predictions will not happen is premature. It is not like they were expected to happen overnight. It is not like military personnel can give a two week notice that they are leaving.

  39. Jay says:

    @Hey Norm: I’m wondering if you don’t always read the things you cite. The data points from the graphs are from mostly non-1st world countries (the US isn’t even included in a few of them) and the graph with the regression has huge outliers anyway. The article doesn’t come close to proving that all republicans should admit that they’re wrong for wanting a 25% overall tax rate versus the 35% (or whatever) rate the dems want just because Cameroon did a crappy job of distributing its wealth over the last 20 years. I guess it’s good that trying to back up your arguments, but this is sloppy.

  40. A voice from another precinct says:

    @MBunge: In fairness to Doug (and I must admit that I hate having to be fair to Doug), the fact that he can show examples that are over 100 years old makes his point. Things aren’t much different now than they were then.

  41. Eric Florack says:

    Why do pundits who are consistently wrong keep getting invited to be on television?

    Or why, by the same token, do morons like Krugman still have a job? The guy has a batting average of about .002.