Eric Alterman: ‘Most MSM Pundits are Lazy, Ill Informed’


By: Warner Todd Huston

Eric Alterman recently got his dander up over at the Nation about many of the MSMs political pundits today, calling them “lazy” and blasting them for their near universal refusal to address Blogger’s critiques of their work. Obviously he isn’t happy over the treatment he received at the hands of Time Magazine’s Joe Klein who dealt him a series of “schoolyard insults”, as Alterman phrased it, after he criticized some of Klein’s work. But, this personal vendetta aside, Alterman is on to something.

Alterman is filled with disgust at many Pundit’s arrogance as they ignore the ankle biting leveled at them by Internet opinionists and Bloggers. And I cannot say that I disagree with him over his contention that the MSM is trying so hard to ignore rising Internet pundits and the influence they are garnering that they have damaged their own credibility in the process by overlooking substantive critical analysis offered at lightening speed by Internet writers.

The advent of the Internet–particularly the blogosphere–has changed all that. Now, not only are the things pundits say and write preserved for posterity; there are legions of folks who track pundit pronouncements, fact-check their statements and compare them with previous utterances on the same and similar topics. They also demand a degree of transparency about methods of inquiry and the reasoning behind conclusions drawn. While proving pundits wrong–over and over and over–has not yet cost anyone a job, it has contributed to a precipitous decline in pundit prestige. The reaction to this decline varies from pundit to pundit, to be sure, but more often than not, it bespeaks a kind of panic.

Alterman offers several examples from George Will to Tim Russert of this refusal to engage bloggers by MSM pundits. Though I am not sure his particular examples are completely satisfactory, he is certainly right over the end result. The MSM is whistling past the graveyard by pretending Bloggers and their criticisms are irrelevant… or worse that they don’t even exist.

The MSM, with its falling readership and customer base, does itself no good at all by further marginalizing themselves and offering pundits whose arrogance places themselves above the very scrutiny they level against Washington with the columns they write. Many of these pundits risk finding their product without a market by refusing to apply their own standards to themselves making them little else but hypocrites and elitists in the eyes of informed readers. Consider the MSM as owners of failing shops filled with buggy whips while Henry Ford is cranking off the assembly line thousands of Model T’s a year. And, naturally, the MSM is blaming the Model T instead of their own refusal to move into the future.

Alterman ends his piece with an observation that errs only a bit.

To put it bluntly, most MSM pundits are lazy, ill informed and in thrall to the specious arguments of the powerful people they are supposed to critique. The punditocracy may not like the blogosphere’s diagnosis, but there is really only one way to get it off its collective back: Work harder, do a better job. It’s really that simple.

I don’t think these pundits are “in thrall” to the powerful people they are “supposed to critique” as much as they are in thrall to their own purportedly unassailable position as “professional” journalists — an arrogance that Bloggers point out on a daily basis. Alterman obviously feels the MSM is not harsh enough on Washington, and sees the job of the journalist as the enemy of any Administration (especially that of a Republican one presumably) so he errs in what he sees as the locus of the problem with the MSM’s chattering classes. It isn’t that they aren’t tough enough on the administration, it’s that they place themselves above the very rules they try and hold their subjects to.

Many of today’s Pundits, for instance, level the charge against Bush that he refuses to “apologize” for his “errors”, refuses to “admit when he’s wrong”. Yet, at the same time, these Pundits refuse to engage the same charge leveled at them when they are proven wrong by Bloggers. And it is happening at an increasing rate.

Well, Eric Alterman has had it with them. And, while I don’t agree with the whys of his argument, I certainly join him in his ultimate point. With Bloggers, the MSM is indulging in the old practice of ignoring them and hoping they will go away. But, all the while, Internet Pundits are stealing a march on them as the MSM loses fans that Bloggers are quickly grabbing up.

After the Wright brothers succeeded at man powered flight in 1903, many newspapers refused to believe it, some for up to five years after the fact. Today, the Internet takes flight in minutes. If the MSM doesn’t keep up they will be as foolish as those “news” outlets that refused to believe that the future had arrived.

Well, the future is now, MSM, the future is now.

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