The Theatricality of Punditry

Punditfact recently hosted an event at the National Press Club wherein a number of political pundits discussed the current state of political analysis and commentary. The speakers were Donna Brazile, Jackie Kucinich and Kathleen Parker. Discussing the issues of political analysis Brazile expressed astonishment at the behavior of Brian Williams, who has been suspended from NBC Nightly News for six months after it came to light that he misled the public about the events surrounding a helicopter crash in Iraq at the outset of the war. The most insightful passage in the piece is as follows:

Speaking to a crowd of about 50, and a larger audience online, the pundits were aware of the roles they play when they are put on air. (You can watch a replay of the event for free by enrolling here.) They know the political slot they fill and the need to play to those expectations. While they won’t say something they don’t believe, nor are they fully themselves on air.

‘I’m always on the left,’ Brazile said. ‘It’s like being an actress. I’ve learned to be an actress being on TV.’

‘On television, you need to fit into these neatly packaged view,’ Brazile added later in the conversation.

This was abundantly clear to Parker as well.

‘I am called on to be the center-right voice at the table,’ Parker said. ‘I’m not going to suddenly start talking out of school. I’m there to make that argument because they (the producers) are looking for a balance.’

The group also said they know what sells: Being loud and forceful.

For the average person this would seem like a significant revelation. The News Business is pretty much like everything else under capitalism, a profit making industry. The way to make profits is to entertain viewers, not inform them. So, instead of insightful analysis about a given political, economic, or social issue we are treated to news industry version of the W.W.E. In the wrestling industry big, muscular guys, and beautiful, buxom, women play roles for the sake of entertaining the crowd in the theatre, as well as the crowd at home. No one is brought onto news television to put forth their actual viewpoint on a particular issue. They are present to play to the expectations of the audience, and the advertisers who pay for the time slot.

In America we have a binary paradigm with two political parties. Those two political parties reflect a bifurcation within the ruling class of capitalists. The Republicans reflect the more reactionary faction of the ruling class, the group of capitalists who desire to really put the squeeze on average people by reducing the amount of social services provided to them and redistributing the money typically spent on those programs and giving it to the rich. The Democrats reflect the more reasonable faction of the ruling class who recognizes that to try and squeeze blood from a stone provokes outrage, social tensions, and possibly social upheaval. Therefore the political pundits who go on television to play a representative from one of theses sides has very little wiggle room in terms of what they are permitted to say. The real conversations about the political future of America go on behind closed doors, in boardrooms and bedrooms, not in front of television cameras.


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