Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Commentary or entertainment
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Beware the pundits. Whether the television talking heads are talking about politics or economics, the scenario is the same. They are first and foremost in the entertainment business, which is why their words helped create pandemonium in the financial markets during the fiscal cliff crisis.
The problem is the medium. Television thrives on hype and controversy to attract viewers, and viewers attract advertisers. In many respects, it mirrors the divisiveness in the nation. Most people may be in the political and economic middle ground, but most television commentators are not. Television producers provide debates more than informative discussions, which is why political conservatives debate liberals and fiscal conservatives debate Keynesian economists.
This is fine, but where are the centrist voices? Their absence helps to increase the divisions both among the public and in Congress. The fiscal cliff crisis was – and once again is about to be – the latest example of pundit-driven overreaction. Most political veterans knew that Congress would not let the Bush tax cuts expire for middle-income earners and would not let the $1.2 trillion spending cuts known as sequestration kick in to shut down the government. But the pundits spent two months warning of the opposite scenario.
Day after day, we were bombarded with “experts” telling us of the horrors of “the cliff” and the likelihood of going over it. Then, as December 31, 2012, the day of reckoning approached, the pundits became increasingly excited. The sky was falling. The world was ending. Congress was made up of partisan fools. The system doesn’t work. America is failing.
But this is not what you read from us. We simply wrote that the country would not go over “the cliff,” period. And come the next deadline, whether it is the debt ceiling or sequestration, we repeat: the country will not go over “the cliff.”
However, the vociferous cliff pundits virtually talked the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 1,000 points during the last three months of the year. Yes, there are many factors affecting the stock market, but it is of note that it dramatically recovered after Congress passed the appropriate cliff-avoiding legislation at year end. How might the market have behaved had most pundits told what history repeatedly has proven: in the end, politicians will do the public’s bidding, albeit, often at the eleventh hour.
However, history, experience, and centrist reason does not make for good television. It is the realm of hype and controversy, and because it shapes public opinion far more than our political system and our elected representatives do, it bears the lion’s share of blame for the gridlock, partisanship, and divisiveness that currently plagues the nation.
Certainly, not all television commentary is entertainment and not all print commentary is rational, but there is a significant difference. Writers cannot shout in several second bursts. They cannot talk over one another, turning debates into indecipherable rants. Instead, writers are compelled to put their reasoning on paper where the public can quickly discern whether or not it is logical and compelling. This is why there is a yawning chasm between the print and television mediums, a chasm between rational commentary and irresponsible entertainment.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND