Our Talking Point Culture

Every year, when I think it can’t get worse, it does. I’m referring to the political discourse by pundits that carries on incessantly like cicadas. Every day, I’m bombarded by various arguments and opinions about the candidates made by the political pundits and spin doctors. These creatures have always existed, but there seems to be more and more of them these days — they’re reproducing like a plague of locusts. Even the news media are spinning themselves, with CNN constantly insisting that it has the “best political coverage” and with Fox crying out that it’s “fair and balanced.” After all, if you say it enough, it must be true.

Dan Filler at the Faculty Lounge refers to this terrific clip from The Daily Show illustrating how the pundits blatantly contradict themselves:

And then there’s the recent episode of Peggy Noonan caught on an open microphone expressing sentiments that contradicted what she was publicly saying.

It seems as though all these pundits and spin doctors are just playing a game, saying things not because they’re true, not because they believe them, not even because they’re plausible — they just make arguments because they support their side. But this is all just noise. Why must we be constantly be bombarded with this inane and phony banter? It would be refreshing, for once, to hear people express their actual opinions, to hear them make arguments that they really believed in rather than what they felt was the party line. It would be refreshing to no longer keep hearing the talking points, and to have a real discourse, not a phony one with scripted arguments that change on a dime if expedient.

So here’s my plea for the media — stop giving these pundits all the airtime. Yank them off the air. Don’t print their drivel in the papers. Let’s just assume that the pundits for each side are just going to spout off whatever they find expedient. Do we really need to hear more of it? Let’s just say that they cancel each other out, and then start with a fresh slate. So please give the airtime and op-ed space to people who are willing to express opinions with integrity, who actually care about developing principled positions rather than merely churning out debate club stock arguments. This is my plea. I’ve reached my saturation point. I can’t take any more. This is a form of torture that must be worse than water boarding.

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11 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    Agreed. I cannot believe the cable networks actually substituted pundits for Kerry’s speech last week. One more thing that drove me to watch the conventions from live feeds from the parties’ sites, rather than cable or networks.

  2. david niehaus says:

    Asking the networks to regulate this kind of entertainment is pointless. Broadband has exposed the limits of intelligent human communication. The time has to be filled so what gets said is a good deal less important than the fact that something is being said. One solution is to look for Andy Griffith marathons. Or, even better, turn off your TV.

  3. Nate Oman says:

    Dan: My suggestion is that you simply get rid of all television news. I’m serious. Stop watching it; it’s crap. You can get plenty of information from print or the internet, and you can screen out most of the idiotic yammering or at least dramatically reduce it.

  4. Frank, Nate, and David — The TV news is particularly bad, but the problem exists everywhere. It also exists in newspaper op-ed pages, blogs, etc. It’s everywhere. It is increasingly harder to escape from it, and it frustrates me more generally that this is how our political discourse is proceeding. Shielding myself in a bubble only blunts the pain a little bit, especially when I know what’s going on outside. It also permeates the speeches of candidates and others, and there often doesn’t seem to be much of a line between the punditry and the political speeches themselves.

  5. Nate, you’re exactly right. Cutting down on pictures helps, too.

    And Dan, when you say “stop giving these pundits all the airtime,” I believe you mean “stop giving these Republican pundits all the airtime.” That’s where most of the mendacity is coming from.

  6. JP says:


    That was funny, until I realized you didn’t intend to be ironic.

  7. I didn’t plan it.

    But I fooled you.

    Now that’s ironic.

    And funny, too.

  8. Danielle Citron says:


    I could not agree more. And last night’s convention confirmed my feeling that sometimes pundit mimic those whom they tease–if politicians make policy seem like gum-ball sound bites then maybe pundits are just following their lead.

    Thanks for the clip!

  9. Prof. Grimmelmann is right – that’s why I stick to MSNBC…although at times I do wish Keith would loosen up and stop being so damn measured and even-handed…

  10. JP says:


    I’m not saying your underlying point re: Republican pundits is wrong (I don’t watch them), or funny in and of itself.

    It’s ironic because it’s phony and inane partisanship on a thread decrying phony and inane partisanship. Such irony would be funny if intentional. I did not think yours was intentional.

    I have no idea what your 6:54 comment is saying, so I guess that yes, you must have fooled me.

  11. Another case in points: for weeks Obama has been up in national polls by 5-10 points. The pundits credited the lead to his message, the economy, his personality, disfavor with the Bush administration, the unpopular war, etc.

    Today, McCain is up in a national poll by 10 points. The same pundits now say such polls are meaningless, we shouldn’t give them too much weight, etc.

    Perhaps Stewart can lampoon these “expert” commentators as well.