"This" being the title of Gene Lyons' latest column: Celebrity pundits are on their way out Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 05/10/06. He writes:
In my experience, there’s no bigger bunch of crybabies in American public life than the fops and courtiers of our Washington press corps. If Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner did nothing else, it surely proved that. Two years ago, the same crowd guffawed at a White House video depicting that playful scamp, George W. Bush, searching the Oval Office for Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction. Yet they were offended to hear Colbert, doing his dead-on impersonation of an adoring FOX News pundit, telling Bush, “I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.” Faking phony sincerity is hard. Yet Colbert remained in character throughout. “I stand for this man,” he declared, “because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photoops in the world.” (my emphasis)
As Lyons explains, Colbert's biting satire was aimed not only at the incompetent and destructive President himself, but also at his shameless enablers in what we graciously call our "press corps":
This president loves dishing it out. The Associated Press reporter who introduced Colbert told an anecdote about Bush teasing him at a press conference for having “a face for radio.” Ha, ha, ha. Good one, Mr. President. He is awfully homely. Colbert’s performance, however, made it clear that Bush doesn’t enjoy taking it.
Well, tough. Millions of Americans haven’t enjoyed being subjected to Bush’s swaggeringly contemptuous disregard for the truth. Nor, to come to the point, the posturing of media enablers like Cohen, a liberal columnist who wrote in 2000 that the nation was “in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse.... That man is George W. Bush.”
But, yikes! Lyons thinks the day of the celebrity pundit is rapidly ending - because of the blogosphere:
Washington socialites are quickly being replaced in public esteem by politically oriented bloggers like Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, the inimitable Digby, Glenn Greenwald, Billmon, Atrios and many others. As Greg Sargent recently pointed out in The American Prospect, “Readers are choosing between the words on a screen offered by Klein and other commentators and the words on a screen offered by bloggers on the basis of one thing alone: The quality of the work.” Sure, there’s a danger of groupthink. That’s true of all mass media. But there’s also a fierce independence and an intellectual honesty among the best online commentators that are making Washington courtiers awfully nervous.
But notice here that Lyons is talking specifically about the pundits, the pompous talking heads like Charles Krauthammer or Bob Will who pronounce the conventional wisdom or the Republican Party line - the two things are becoming almost indistinguishable among the Big Pundits.
Reporting of the news is related but very different. For democracy to flourish, we have to have a competent, critical-minded press digging out and reporting the news. And doing it well while applying professional standards of quality and ethics. It's not enough to get rid of the Judith Millers, though that's certainly a necessary thing. But we need our news organizations - print, online, radio, TV - to rediscover and produced high quality news reporting.