The Powerlessness of Pundits

Beltway types frowned at Obama's speech, but public opinion didn't budge

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Last week, pundits universally panned President Obama's televised Oval Office speech, which dealt with the Gulf oil spill. That's bad, right? Not necessarily, argues The New York Times' Adam Nagourney. "[S]o what," he asks, if the TV talking heads aren't pleased? "Though pundits have taken Mr. Obama to task over the past month, his voter approval rating--a tangible measure of his standing with the public--barely changed, hovering around 50 percent, at least through the end of the week." In the Internet age, he's just not sure that pundits--elite opinionmakers like those in the Atlantic 50, for example--matter anymore. Is he right? His argument struck a chord with some bloggers. Here's a glimpse of the debate.

  • 'Does It Really Matter If You Lose the Pundits Anymore?' Nagourney looks at two possible reasons for the decline in pundit power. One is the sheer saturation of the media with opinion: "It is not just the number of commentators or the abundance of platforms that is diluting the influence of the mainstream media, but their speed. Opinions are being served up so fast that in this case many of them were stale by the next morning." Another is "the mistrust of the news media: it is at an all-time high." There's just not much numerical evidence suggesting that what George Will says on a Sunday morning
  • 'Short Version,' summarizes Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol: " the cablesphere is talking to hear itself talk...and the public isn't listening." To answer Nagourney's question, "does it really matter if you lose the pundits anymore?" Daily Kos's DemFromCT replies: "No, it does not. Except to other pundits."
  • A Factor in Media (and Political Wonk) Irrelevance  In an unrelated piece for The Washington Post, Jason Horowitz suggests that another problem with the way the media treats politics lies in the love of "narrative." In other words, 'journalists and politicians know that voters, like everyone else, are hard-wired to understand the world through stories," and journalists in particular insist on sticking to this way of covering politics even when it's no longer useful. For example, writes Horowitz, "much of the reaction to the speech, rather than focusing on the plight of shrimpers or the legislative agenda, critiqued the address as a new panel in the ongoing Obama storyboard." But are citizens really evaluating a presidential speech on whether or not it sticks to The Plot, as determined by some D.C. journalists?
  • The Mainstream Media Is Useless, and They'll Defend Obama to the End  Frank Ross at conservative Big Journalism thinks Nagourney's article is merely the natural stage in the mainstream media's love affair with Obama where "she [the media] wakes up one morning face down in the gutter and realizes she's no good," but "not yet ready to start regaining her lost dignity," blames herself rather than "her lover," declaring "she's not worthy." He's amused by Nagourney's question concerning pundits, though, which he responds to thus: "Sure--what do they matter? The Times and other major newspapers employ people like Maureen Down and Frank Rich and Paul Krugman precisely because nobody gives a fig about their opinions of current events!"
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