Should Professors Join the “Debate”?
In a very interesting post earlier today here at Concurring Opinions, Eric Muller wonders why law professors do not join in the debate against right-wing commentators who argue that the federal judiciary has been commandeered by the “loony left”: “We do not respond to the Mark Smiths and Andrew Napolitanos and William Pendleys and Robert Dierkers with popular-press books, or on the airwaves. Why not?”
I think that the problem stems from the sad state of modern media. There’s no shortage of news shows that will host the Malkins, the Coulters, and the like. And there seems to be an increase in commentators who love to spew their often nasty, rude, and uninformed opinions with remarkable arrogance. With these shrill voices constantly being given air time, constantly being published by major commercial publishing houses, it’s hard to have the same kind of thoughtful discussions in the popular media as professors have in the academy. Few professors want to go on the TV news or radio anymore just to get into shouting matches and trading soundbites. Few professors want to publish books by commercial presses if it means writing in a Coulter-like style.
The problem, in short, is that there isn’t really much of a discussion — it’s just a lot of rhetoric. While joining in this so called “debate” is important to produce counter sound bites, I don’t think that many professors are interested in something that is best done by any hothead in a suit. In other words, “liberals” can just find their screamers, bullies, and sophists too, but it takes a special breed to do this, and I’m not sure that professors, who are trained to be respectful of other’s opinions, nuanced, and interested in a real debate, find the current media formats for “debate” to make such discourse possible.
My attitude is very similar to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show when he appeared on CNN Crossfire and urged them to simply stop doing the show. The problem wasn’t with Tucker Carlson; it was the show itself, its format, and the kind of discourse it produced.
I’m not arguing that there shouldn’t be folks willing to present the alternative soundbites to the conservative soundbite makers, but I wonder to what extent that the academy can do this. Many professors are not good shouters and are not good at making quick reductive one-liners or at producing books with empty rhetoric and little factual accuracy or balance. Professors want to have a different kind of debate than what mainstream media often allows.