One political article in particular caught my eye in today's Sunday New York Times though it was not to be found in the front section or Week in Review. Nope, it was in the Fashion & Style Section and no, it had nothing to do with Sarah Palin's wardrobe. Titled "At Pundit School, Learning to Smile and Interrupt", it opens:
J. Peter Freire is at school, learning to be a better pundit.
He is being trained to carve his conservative philosophy into bite-size nuggets — preferably ones that end with a zinger — and to avoid questions he doesn’t like. He is discovering the right way to attack opponents (with a smile) and to steer a conversation in his direction (by interrupting).
Journalists once had to achieve a certain gravitas before appearing on television as a political expert, but not anymore. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, a riveting presidential election and the proliferation of cable channels, people like Mr. Freire, who is 26 and has been managing editor of The American Spectator, a conservative magazine, since January, are finding themselves in hot demand.
While the lack of experience on the part of many of these pundits calls into question just what they're doing on my TV set, what I found most fascinating in this article is the apparent acceptance of the concept of pundits as extensions of the campaign and a movement. It's the latest step in the continued transition of news from a theoretically objective venue to one with a veneer of objectivity and an overflow of rhetoric (except for FOX News, which crossed over into full propaganda mode years ago). Sadly, for those of us who follow all of the political coverage, it also means that we suffer through an unending, overwhelming cascade of pundits who generally add very little to the mix (see: "The Decabox" and "Who the F@*k is That Guy?" on The Daily Show if you need an example).
It all brings to mind another article, "Top Yeller", in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, that profiles Billy Mays, ubiquitous TV pitchman, and defines his appeal as "a celebrity endorser whose celebrity is based entirely on having endorsed things." Is it such a stretch to believe that many of the pundits spawning on our TV sets are nothing but the political equivalent, hawking political positioning instead of the WashMatik, the Ultimate Chopper, and OxiClean to bored TV watchers around the country?
However, in these tough economic times, it is nice to know that if you're out of a job because your advice led to your candidate getting crushed in the polls, you can always pony up $75 for a basic lecture on how to be an effective pundit. If you do, God knows someone will pay you to be on TV.