Hunter has a superb piece on the declining (or perhaps negligible) authority of the punditocracy. Hunter writes:
I have never (and I do mean, never) gotten the impression that anyone among the upper echelons of the press understands just how badly their long-term credibility has been damaged by their uncritical kowtowing to administration propaganda when it comes to the Iraq War. I’ve never gotten the impression that they comprehend just how much their brand credibility was torn to ribbons, and how to this day there are large segments of the population — the segments of the population that tend to pay the most attention to issues and news events, not coincidentally — who remember quite well all the things the editorialists of the press were wrong about, and continue to be wrong about, and manage to make themselves quite insufferably wrong about, and that there simply is no patience, or marketplace, for these same voices again. Just as events in Iraq have impacted our military for the next two decades, so too will future editorializing about future national security debates be impacted by the abandonment of principles evinced by media behavior in the Iraq War.
One of the things that this ‘failure of punditry’ has exposed is the myth of the middle (what I often refer to as Compulsive Centrist Disorder). The establishment middle (even when it isn’t really the middle at all[link]) is simply another political ideology–at least that is the result, even if the way the middle is determined has very little to do with ideology. And as an ideology, it has failed. Hunter writes:
That Iraq War failure, in itself, is nothing more than an extension of the ever more asinine failures of the national press for the last dozen-plus years, as political coverage in general slid gradually into lazy and lazier promotion of dubious or misleading stories pushed by partisan operatives, e.g. Vince Foster, Whitewater, etc., (2) grumpy politics-as-celebrity-gossip (Al Gore and “earth tones”, for God’s sake), and (3) unchallenged he-said, she-said stenography that simply repeats what figures on either side say, as opposed to doing a wee bit of research in order to figure out which side is right, and which side might be, for that particular issue, a lying sack of crap (global warming, and pretty much every White House statement uttered by any official in any capacity for the last six years.)
It is endemic, apparently, but there’s a catch, and one that I think will become more and more obvious in the next few years. The major media outlets, by weakening their own apparent capacity for genuine analysis of the news they themselves produce, have made more and more of what they do expendable. Fred Hiatt has an opinion about something? Well, honestly, so the hell what? I’ve got an opinion too, and I apparently pay more attention to the actual on-the-ground reporting in his paper than he does. Judith Miller wants to tell us all about a new Iraqi defector that just coincidentally repeats whatever talking point the administration is most interested in pushing that particular week. Well, if it’s false information from a demonstrably non-credible source, than how is that different from peddling raw propaganda, and how is that reporting? Tom Friedman met a cab driver somewhere in Asia that uncannily has all the same opinions as Tom Friedman himself does, expressed in almost the exact same way? Well, Jeebus, who the hell cares? I’ve got an old box-style cheese grater that agrees with everything I’ve ever said, too, but I don’t write friggin’ columns about it. And I could, too, because it’s got a compelling life story — its job was outsourced to the KitchenAid on the counter, and the damn thing has been rusting in a drawer ever since.
Cynicism on the part of much of the intelligent public, and apparently very justifiable cynicism at that — that’s the problem. The reporting of fact remains vital, but the editorial pages, the punditry — the lifeblood of cable news, as it turns out — those things are made of weaker stuff. They don’t carry much weight, because they are by definition not designed to be very weighty. More to the point, those things are reproducible by others — the only thing the pundit press has going for it is credibility. If the credibility is gone, by, say, being pompously, arrogantly, and window-rattlingly wrong on the major issues of the day for an extended period of years on end, then the rest of it is as good as gone too.
This is why mainstream pundits are so scared of bloggers–because, in principle, a good blogger is equal to a famous pundit. To paraphrase Hunter, we’re all cheesegraters here. But being a pundit is a damn sight easier (and potentially far more lucrative) than being a reporter, so the pundits don’t want to give up their cushy gigs. Hence, the caterwauling and disdain towards bloggers. Too bad. They get it wrong all the time…