Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pundit Fatigue

Huh. Is it possible that we liberals really don’t need pundits to tell us what to think?

Today, former punk music writer/Hollywood movie producer Jane Hamsher lost her cool over the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations between Pres. Obama and Congressional Republicans, applying to “ardent Obama supporters” one of the viler slurs I’ve heard in a long time. Given Hamsher’s excessive rhetoric over the past couple of years, today’s slur engendered more ridicule than outrage, which, I think, was precisely the right reaction.

But ridicule is a language some liberal pundits don’t quite get; so when my friend Ian Boudreau tweeted this:

Over/under on number of days until Hamsher is on @KeithOlbermann's new Countdown to have her boots licked?

Mr. Olbermann took umbrage:

@iboudreau It's so nice to meet traditionally uninformed wingnuts. How many times do you think she has ever been on any of my shows?

Now, Ian may be a lot of things – but a “wingnut” he ain’t. And he is, as I say, a friend of mine and I’m from Chicago, where you defend your friends. Even against Really Important Television Personalities like former ESPN SportsCenter host Keith Olbermann. So … I said this:

Um, @KeithOlbermann ... calling @iboudreau a “wingnut”? Really? This is why we get so frustrated with “pundits.”

To which Mr. Olbermann responded:

@Dave_von_Ebers And who are you?

Charming, yes, but after all, Mr. Olbermann is a Really Important Television Personality; so it was a fair question. I mean, who am I to (a) defend a friend who had the audacity to criticize a Really Important Television Personality like Keith Olbermann; and (2) express my own personal frustration with self-appointed Really Important Pundits Who Have Television Shows?

Of course, I could have responded thusly: “You’re right, Keith. I’m nobody – least of all somebody who used to talk about baseball on television, fer Chrissakes. I’m just a guy who’s practiced law for going on twenty-four years in Cook County, Illinois, the largest unified court system in the world. I’m just a father of three who runs his own business, stays on top of the news, runs an occasional marathon, and blogs a bit. I’m not, heaven forefend, a Sports-Reporter-Turned-Liberal-Television-Pundit. So, pardon the interruption.”

But that’s not the point. I don’t think Keith Olbermann meant that comment – “And who are you?” – to be as condescending as it sounded. I think he was taken aback at the suggestion that he would be connected to Jane Hamsher (though I’m not sure that’s much of a stretch, quite frankly), and he didn’t expect to be drawn into the Hamsher controversy du jour. Maybe she’s small potatoes to him too.

The point is, I actually like Keith Olbermann well enough, although I think he’s far less analytical than, say, Rachel Maddow, and he’s not as consistently “on” as, say, Jon Stewart. But that’s okay; nobody’s perfect. What I don’t like is the Cult of Keith Olbermann. Or the Cult of Rachel Maddow. Or the Cult of Jon Stewart.

In fact, I don’t like the Cult of Any Liberal Television Pundit.

The point of my Tweet – that some of us are frustrated with pundits generally – is that they, or, perhaps more accurately, their adoring fans, seem to think that liberal pundits cannot be questioned under any circumstances. We saw this once before with Mr. Olbermann, when he allowed Michael Moore (another person I more or less like) to completely misrepresent the assault accusations against Julian Assange (accusations that, whether true or not, are, in fact, quite serious), all the while nodding in agreement. Olbermann and Moore were wrong, but their ardent supporters (with apologies to Jane Hamsher) simply couldn’t acknowledge that mistake.

I’m not suggesting that Keith Olbermann or any of the rest of them should be held to a standard of infallibility. I think all of them – Olbermann, Maddow, Stewart, Moore – are reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people who generally do a good job advocating liberal positions, and that’s just fine. But they are, obviously, fallible just like everyone else. So let’s just abandon the pretense that any of them is above criticism, okay.

And, above all, let’s stop investing so much importance in any of them. Watch their television shows if you want, but don’t pretend that they are more important than the causes we all believe in.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. I dunno, Dave, I'm sorry but this whole Hamsher thing sounds pretty childish to me.

    The liberal end of the spectrum has two main branches, both with their own orthodoxy: Those who back President Obama without fail, and those who don't. To question that orthodoxy from without brings scorn, name-calling and childish tantrums. Criticism from within is treated even more harshly.

    I like Keith because of his excellent delivery and composition of his Special Comments, but neither he nor anyone else you mentioned, nor Goodman, nor Fisk nor Chomsky nor anyone else beloved of some liberal or progressive somewhere speaks for me or tells me what to do or think.

    I rather resent it when someone who's supposedly on the same side goes on some rant about people liking a particular commentator, and that's something Ian does a lot (so I now ignore all his political Tweets; I can't tell when he's trying to be funny or he's just being grumpy again).

    I also think it was frankly going too far for you to use the same rhetorical tactics as the right wing to belittle Olbermann as "somebody who used to talk about baseball on television" or to refer to him as "former ESPN SportsCenter host". I have tremendous respect you, your intellect and your opinions, which is why to me those cracks seemed so far beneath you (and more like the kind of thing I might say about an opponent, actually).

    Until today, I had never heard of this Jane Hamsher, so I had no idea why one branch of liberalism was so upset with her. Honestly, I don't get why anyone is: If Keith Olbermann doesn't matter, than why does she?

    When this sort of bull happens, I seriously think about disengaging from politics altogether. Maybe I could devote my attention and energies to the lost art of macramé. No, I bet they have silly arguments over types of knots.

  2. Wow, Arthur. I’m really disappointed in that comment. I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. Personally, Dave, I think you have it exactly right. Olbermann, whom I have adored since he was the sports guy on Channel 2 in LA about 40 years ago, has blocked me because I had the audacity to ask if there was anyone on the face of the planet he DOESN'T think he's smarter than.

    His loss, not mine.

  4. To Arthur - Hamsher is an all-weather hater, Olbermann respects POTUS but has caveats and has a big ego. This blog says no one should hold a tv pundit on our side, one that we respect, more important than our cause or more important than our views - often well thought out and considered views. Reminding folks not to dismiss like minded individuals out of hand in favor of "defending" our favorite pundits - even when they dismiss those on the same side out of ego in 140 characters. Liberals on the edge of hero worship will surely ignore the mistakes made so obviously by the conservatives that have wafted into the Beck, Hannity, Breitbart type camps. I think Ian's tweet was impulsive, in response to another tweet using hamsher and Olbermann in the same tweet, but Dave's response was swift to defend a friend, and then realistic to point out the hazards of hero worship involved in taking your eye off the ball.

  5. Dont Follow Leaders/Watch the Parking Meters, as Mr. Dylan had it some time ago in what may have been a self-referential moment.

    I am to Obama's Left. I knew that when I vote for him in 2008; and I'll know it when I vote for him in 2012. I have no problem with being critical of the President; but I will also defend him from the crazies on the Right, and at this point in our history, most of them are.

    I see no other way, at least for now. If there were a real Socialist Party, I could be persuaded to vote for it. But in the meantime, if the Progressives that cannot stand Obama wont do something like actually create a political movement and party to not only challenge him but also be capable of winning, it's all Castles in the Sky.

  6. I meant to say that I thought the whole Internet fight about Hamsher was childish, not this post, and not Dave's comments or his defence of Ian. Apologies, Dave, for implying otherwise.

    I basically agree with Dave, even though there is that one part I was disappointed with. Thanks to Karen for trying to clarify. I agree with what she said, too.

    What I was trying to do, badly, was express my frustration with liberals fighting each other over things that don't matter; arguing over media celebrities—Hamsher included—seems to me to be a total waste of time. But the personal attacks launched against other ordinary liberal folks for liking or not liking some liberal leader or pundit is distracting us from focusing on defeating our adversaries, and THAT is what matters.

  7. Here's the thing: Liberals don't need pundits for information gathering. Many of us are engaged and seek out information from a number of sources. I think this is becoming apparent to the pundits and "elite" bloggers.

    I liked Keith a lot, but when he left MSNBC, I moved on. Haven't watched his new show and I don't plan to.

  8. I arrived here through Ian's Google+ post and I am glad I did. I wholeheartedly agree and support you statements. I enjoy Olbermann, especially his special statements, but he is polarizing and I, a liberal, am fed up with extremes. He responses to both you and Ian were juvenile. It amazes me how weak some individuals are, yet he dishes it any chance he gets. If he can't handle healthy discussions, he should take his bruised ego home and remove himself from twitter.

  9. I feel I should weigh in here if just to clarify my own motivations here.

    First off, I don't get paid by anyone to cover politics, much less tweet about it. I ingest what I ingest, try to make sense out of it and apply what I've learned already, and then I make snarky jokes on Twitter. That's it. If someone doesn't think I'm funny or thinks I'm too hard on "liberal commentators," that's their prerogative -- I'm sorry I'm not your cup of tea, but I'm sure I've said things that could alienate most, of not all, of my followers many times over. Point is, it's Twitter, I'm just a Twitter user, and either way it's really no skin off my back.

    So as far as the comment about Olbermann goes, I was probably over the top -- He implied he'd never had Hamsher on his show, so I shouldn't have implied that he definitely would. But on the other hand, it's really not a big deal that I did. Some random guy makes a joke about a millionaire TV personality on Twitter? I'd think that could go by unnoticed.

    But fine, Olbermann's replies were, if sneering, at least justified. What surprises me more (because I've had one or two other angry replies from celebrities I've hectored on Twitter) is the fury and rage with which fans take up the cause of defending their idols. This is what really annoys me, because I'm in agreement with @stopthemadness - Liberals don't need, and shouldn't rely on, established "thought leaders" from whom to take our cues or marching orders. I soured on Olbermann when it became clear that he was leading a lot of credulous viewers astray on some very serious errors, and so my persistent line is to rip on supposedly liberal "leading lights," because it's important that we never take them too seriously.

    Anyway, it's great to know I have made friends through Twitter like Dave and @vdaze and many others, who took it upon themselves to stick up for me during this whole (dare I say hilarious) altercation. Thanks very much - it meant a lot.

  10. I agree with pretty much everything you say here. Except frankly I think you give them far to much credit for being "Thoughtful, and well intentioned" All of them, Kieth, Hamsher, Maddow, Beck, Limbaugh, Orielly,etc etc etc etc Are all Infotainer/actors Working for Six and seven figure salaries for billion dollar corporations. With the sole purpose of making those corporations richer by way of ratings, and clicks from their respective demographics.